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

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013


September 23, 2013
Aborlan, Palawan

Hello, lahat po kayo! (hello, all of you!)
After district meeting last Tuesday, Pres. Stucki arranged an immediate transfer. But thankfully, it was just in our apartment, and was not for reasons having to do with my companionship with Elder Balonsong. Elder Hart is now my trainer. I have an American companion!  I really miss being Elder Balonsong's companion, because Elder Hart hasn't had experience in OYMing, or tracting. That's all we're doing. But we're both growing so much from this that I know the transfer is the right idea and was revelation from Heavenly Father. 

Wait! I want to teach you all some tagalog before I continue. So... when it comes to showing some possession, you use aking after the item, or ko right after, if it is yours. They both mean the word "my." For example: "That is aking (my) father." Or you can say "That is my father ko (my)." Tagalog is all about switching around word orders, as witnessed in the use of ko, and it constantly boggles aking brain! So I'm going to use that in the rest of email ko
Aking life here now is quite different that what it was when I was with Elder Balonsong. He knew the language very well, and speaking to whoever wasn't a problem for him. Elder Hart hasn't had any experience in door-to-door tracting in his mission, even though he has been on a mission for nine months. So I am forced to actively participate in speaking Tagalog because he isn't completely sure about how to do it either. 

So every day, every hour, every minute is quite the adventure, and while I thought I was already out of my comfort zone, I'm traveling farther and farther away from it every day. Thinking that aking language isn't sufficient is no longer an option. 90% of people don't know any English, and if they do it is rather scarce.
But, ray ko of hope is the members! They've seen brand new missionaries like me come out to the field, and know aking language difficulties, and are always trying to help me overcome them. 

So I'm finally able to get on a good enough computer to send pictures, so here are a bunch! 

This is where we go to email. The backroom is where the computers are.  The weather is actually very nice here most of the time. Honestly, I'm sweating more right now at this computer more than I have the entire week, just because the lady hasn't pointed the fan in my direction yet.

This is a picture of Bro Deo. He is ridiculously funny, and he is typically the key to opening the door to people's houses for us to teach. He seems to know everybody, and teaches the Gospel Principles class and sometimes priesthood. His English isn't the best, but it sure is better than most. Aking next picture is of our ward council meeting. It's in our temporary meeting house. 

What you see in this picture is about half of the size of our church building. It's small, but last Sunday we had 121 attend church, and the week before we set a record in Aborlan of having 129 people there!  
It was raining so hard one time we were  there that water started to pour in. On the right of this picture is the one piano I have been able to play out here in the field. It's out of tune and clanky. 

Interesting side-note: one of the sisters in the ward asked me if I wanted to create a ward choir in Aborlan and be it's first conductor! I graciously accepted, obviously. But, just from hearing people in the congregation sing on Sunday, it will be a challenge. Since nobody knows how to read music here (there are a few that can jot out a melody but not read music), many songs in the hymnbook have been tampered with. So when I'm playing piano on Sunday, the congregation starts singing something in a different rhythm or melody.
Anyways, that's not super important.  
Want to hear a funny story? Ok, well we have this investigator (that was planning on getting baptized on Saturday, but unfortunately cannot because of "kape" or coffee). I asked her how her scripture reading was going, and she said she just finished 1 Nephi. I asked her if she read chapter eight, which is about the the prophet Lehi's Tree of Life vision. Earlier as we were preparing to teach her, I looked up the word for iron, so I could say iron rod in Tagalog. The dictionary said "plantse" so I used that while we talked it about it with her. And I kept on using it, and kept on using it, and kept on using it. Every time I used it it seemed like she was getting more confused. Turns out, I totally forgot that iron has two different meanings! The metal, and the thing we use to iron clothes. Guess which one I used? Once I figured that out, I couldn't stop laughing, and I couldn't explain it to anybody, and aking companion couldn't either.
This lizard lives in our apartment. It makes the funniest sound at random times, but is especially prone to doing so in the night time when we're sleeping. It sounds like: TUUUuukaaaeeeuuu! It's surprisingly clear, so much so that you would expect coming from something else. We want to keep it there because it helps get rid of the bugs that come in.

The next picture shows where exactly it lives. It doesn't move but just stays there, waiting for bugs. And that's my companion. He's right next to our desks, just like the lizard.

This is most ko common form of transportation; The glorious, magnificent, sanitation-less, bumpy trike. Usually 5 people fit into it, not including the driver. I often hit aking head on the top when we travel around, because the roads are super rocky all the time.

This is a picture of Elder Hart, my companion, and aking typical lunch at the diner right next to my house. To the left is "baboy" or pig. It costs 35 pesos, or 80 cents. The rice is 16, and the "royal" is about 20. BTW, Royal is the exact same thing as Fanta. I have no idea why it's called that. The next picture is all of the other food that I could have bought for around the same price as baboy. Filipino food has a lot of sodium!

The above picture is of all of the missionaries in aking zone! In the middle is Elder and Sister Gwilliams. They are so sweet and remind me so much of Bro and Sis Patterson that used to live in the Mechanicsville ward. They're my district, so we get to see them at district meetings. Many people are going to be leaving this next transfer, because they will be training missionaries. I just learned that we will be getting 17 new missionaries in Manila this transfer! 

And the next picture is of where Elder Saclot baptized Bro Paller. It's a beautiful place, and I hope I can baptize there in these next six weeks because I probably won't be able to baptize in a river again in my entire mission.

The Lord's work is truly coming forth in these latter days, and proceeding here in the Philippines, and I'm a part of it. Pretty cool, right?

Monday, September 23, 2013

God Loves All of Us...The Work Continues...

Aborlan, Palawan, Philippines, September 16, 2013 
Hello, po lahat kayo!  (hello, all of you!)
GREAT NEWS! Elder Balonsong returned the morning after he left! The feeling I felt when he came in with the senior couple, Bro and Sis Gwilliam, was one of the best feelings I have ever felt in my life. We have not only gotten back to the relationship we had before, but our missionary work has improved. He has had such a great influence on me, and I will surely miss him after these quick twelve weeks will be over. When I was in a threesome with Elder Hart and Saclot, things weren't the same. I wasn't myself, and I missed him a lot.

Things have definitely changed for the better since he’s been back, mainly because I realized that there were many things that were going wrong in the first place. Mainly, I only followed, and didn't try to participate unless asked. I thought that it was just fine, since I was a new missionary, but that most certainly is not the case. Regardless of what part of the mission you’re in and how much you know the language, you’re a missionary and representative of the church.

We have three solid investigators who will be baptized in October! They are Mike, Romeo, and Anthony. I apologize that I do not have any pictures of them for you. But I will do my best to explain what they’re like here. Mike Sevellia is living with a less-active member, Christina. He got introduced to the church by helping build the temporary meetinghouse which we currently use. He has received all of the lessons well, as well as my Tagalog! He’s patient with me. He is a good example of what it means to be humble, because he has had a lot of difficulties in life. October 5th, his baptismal date, will not only be the day of his baptism, but also of his marriage! He and Christina will be getting married the morning of the baptismal service. Elder Balonsong and I are planning on buying him a tie and shirt he can wear to church as a wedding gift.  Because the baptismal font in the meetinghouse that is currently being constructed is not available, we will be baptizing him in a river. What a rare opportunity! There is only one other area in the entire Manila mission that has that opportunity.

I actually got to see Elder Saclot baptize somebody in the river that Mike will be baptized in—and it is magandang maganda! (very beautiful). It is breathtaking.  I so wish I could go swimming there. But alas, the white handbook says not to.

 But, today for P-day we all went down there and played chess and cards (the white handbook doesn't say otherwise!) as well as skipped rocks.

On our way back, we got caught in a rainstorm, and stopped at a member’s house. They had a rambutan tree, and we had a ton of fun trying to get some rambutan down from the tree while we were getting soaked. It's so delicious it didn't really matter.  The next picture is how to get it off of the trees. Basically there's a little hook at the end of that pole that you can snag them down. But it's also fun to just whack the entire tree to get some rambutan.

Our other investigator is Romeo. He's 24, and lives in a very small humble, house. We haven't taught him as much as we want to, because he often works in the mountains and isn't home. But his brother served a mission and lives with him. So he is a very good influence on him. He's had a hard life. He's divorced and hasn't found direction in life. We try our best to encourage him, and really he just needs to trust in the Lord. It's hard for us to talk to him about those things because he has to sacrifice so much just get to church, which would be the equivalent of 50 cents.

Lastly, we have Anthony. Because we didn't know he was a member at first, we have had only one lesson with him.  He’s actually been attending church for the past five weeks with his member friend. We showed him the restoration DVD, and afterwards he said that he knew the church and the Book of Mormon are true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. We promptly gave him a baptismal invitation for Oct 5th which he immediately accepted.

There! As you can see, the month of October will be very rewarding for us in Palawan. The work in the language and in the gospel is paying off more and more each day. I'm obviously not perfect in the language, but I can speak in the language pretty well, but it depends on the conversation.

My personal and companionship study have changed my view about how much I know about the gospel. Being one who was raised in the church, attended seminary and institute and BYU religion classes, and has read the scriptures regularly, I may know more about some things than others, but the more I learn about the gospel, the more I realize I don't know about the gospel. The best part about that realization is that it gets more and more exciting with every new thing that I learn. And I really mean that. The knowledge that I'm constantly gaining from everything about Haggai to Ezra Taft Benson's agricultural position and relationship to Dwight D Eisenhower is consistently solidifying my testimony that God loves all of us and has given his children many opportunities to learn about the gospel, in order for all of us to have that chance to receive eternal life in the presence of our loving Father in Heaven. The work continues that I've been studying. And I'm a part of it! How lucky am I? 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Small and Simple Things in Aborlan on the Island of Palawan

Mon 9/9/2013 4:48 AM
Hello, everybody!
This picture is just of the main area in Aborlan.  It’s not a very interesting picture, but that's because there's not a lot of specific or unique things to take pictures of.  I’ll try to do better next week.

I've realized in the past that I have done a terrible job in talking about the "Small and Simple" things that I promised I would do in my emails, and instead just about things that happen in my life that aren't that... well... unique to my mission. So here are a few observations:

1 Trikes are the way of travel to specific neighborhoods. Usually they cost about 20 pesos (50 cents) per person for maybe one or two miles. We often ride with people we don't know, and it's often very crowded. If we need to go a farther distance, then we take a Jeepney or a UV. Jeepneys are pretty crummy, but UVs are excellent. Depending on the distance it can be from 20-40 pesos per person. If we're going a really long distance, we go in a bus. But missionaries don't like it cuz there's often extremely inappropriate (and out of date) music playing.

2 Brown outs are extremely common. Everybody has candles ready for them.

3 I've gotten used to seeing frogs and lizards around my house. And I hear pigs all the time getting slaughtered. Interesting fact: they sound EXACTLY like zombies.

4 I love the fruits they have here, but all of them are a little bit different. Like, the bananas are usually a third of the size of regular bananas in America. Also, I've come to love their green oranges, jackfruit, mangos, and guavas

5 Filipinos have no idea of food storage. You buy everything you need for your day, and just anticipate you'll do the same tomorrow. So, it's very common to buy things like mints or small pieces of candy (i.e. "fun size") individually.

6 80% of the time, people accept us into their house to hear our message, and they're very nice. But, on the opposite end, sometimes when they see us coming they literally run away. Like, we see them run away. Tumawa kami! (We laugh)

7 People often ask about America. The most common question is "Does it rain in America?" I think it's funny, but I try to be nice.

8 They don't have traditional medicine. Like, they have never heard of Pepto Bismol, and if you want to buy Tylenol, you have to buy them individually, which stinks.

9 I've gotten used to going over rickety bridges. Filipinos seem to just prance over them, but I fear for my life. But it's getting better.

10 Houses don't have individual addresses, but are just on the street. So to find a specific house on a street you have to ask the neighbors, which naturally opens up a conversation about who we are and our church, which is wonderful.

11 Filipino brands are always super duper cheap, but American brands are the same price. Exclusion: soda.

12 Filipinos are very conservative. For example, if you want a soda, the person behind the counter opens up the bottle and pours it into a plastic bag and gives you a straw, and then recycles the bottle.

13 That goes for money, as well. In other words, they never have correct change for their customers, which is really unfortunate for us because missionaries get only 1000 peso bills, and most purchases are only about 50 pesos or so.

14 The houses are far off of the ground, so that rain can run underneath the house, not through it. I think that is found only in Palawan, though, and not Manila.

15 Sometimes, the language here is very tedious. Sometimes there are three times as many syllables in Tagalog to give the equivalent in English. But, other times, it's quite the opposite. For example, words like "ganon" means something like “that.” Or "daw" means “So they say.”

16 People have no concept of safety. I'm ashamed to admit this seems normal to me now, too.  Everybody walks carefree while trikes and jeepneys are passing right by. It's not uncommon for a car to pass you going at 50 mph and you're only 5 feet away from it.

17 Palawan is beautiful. I especially love the nights, cuz there's not a lot of pollution, and I'm surrounded by palm trees and natural wildlife, that has been, up to this point, friendly.  :D

18 Out of all the animals Filipinos are fond of, what would you think it would be? Well, it's the squirrel. It's a big deal when you find a squirrel. Yeah, I can't believe it.

So there's just a few things about Life in the Philippines!

My week has gone really well, and I've made a lot of progress in the language. I find that reading the Book of Mormon is my most helpful language study. I really enjoy reading it in Tagalog, cuz I can feel the Spirit and learn the language at the same time. People here are telling me one missionary was able to become fluent in the language by two months cuz he read the BoM in Tagalog, so I'm convinced.

My companion and I bonded quite well.  But I am very sorry to say that my companion/trainer, who I looked so much up to in this time, decided to leave his mission today, and is gone. It's a very sad day today.  Your prayers for him would be nice.  So now I'm in a threesome companionship with the other two missionaries here. It's not certain when I'll be getting my next trainer, or if I will get one at all, or just continue in this threesome companionship.
But you should know that I'm pushing through! I'm in love with the work I'm doing. Really, the trials are here to make me grow. Many of the missionaries who are having the hardest time here on the mission seem to be struggling because they constantly think about their life back home. I've found that if I just continue to focus on the job at hand, and not heed the devil on my left shoulder, life becomes easier. So really, besides the heartbreaking event that happened today, my week has been the best week of my life because I wanted it to be. There is so much more of me that I have given that I did not know I had.
With love,

Elder Thurber

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Every day I feel more and more comfortable with the language."

9/2/2013 Aborlan, Palawan


I have felt especially lucky that when I was at the MTC, I got to know some absolutely fantastic and inspiring people, who really have strengthened my testimony and determination here in Palawan. For this reason, I was so excited to see them at zone conference! It was the closest I have felt, lately, to being close to home. But, the only issue is that they all looked super stressed. There isn't any easy way to get around the adjustment of speaking in a new language.

After zone conference, I got to go to the mall, which is a special opportunity for me because there isn't any mall close by me at all. I splurged and spent 1250 pesos (about 30 bucks) on "Beginning Tagalog: For Non-Tagalogs and Foreigners." It has been a great help! It showed me so much stuff that I wasn't able to learn at the MTC, and that my tatay (companion) can't confidently explain to me.  Every day I feel more and more comfortable with the language. That's been my motto here.

But it doesn't mean that life is getting any easier. You would think that because I've been out here for almost two months now, I would kind of get used to the program, but that is not the case. There's so much I always need to do. But at the same time, I have experienced greater rewards as time has gone on here.

 It's always fun to go proselyting next to schools, because everybody just stops and stares at me, and when I try to go up and talk to them, they just continue to stare shamelessly. I suppose I'm the first young American they have ever seen. (There are a few ex-pats here, but they usually seem a bit odd).

Additionally, when I go proselyting, people are sometimes quite amazed to hear an American speaking Tagalog (in the middle of nowhere). But it often leads into a great conversation that allows me to practice my conversational (i.e. non- teaching) skills, which is nice. That's definitely one of the more rewarding parts of my mission.

I'm not only getting used to the language here, but also to how people say things. Like, if I ask somebody to repeat a specific word in the sentence, they will repeat the entire sentence, regardless of how long the sentence is. They never give a “yes” or “no” answer, but try to explain things more clearly. They're always nervous at first to meet me, but physical touch seems to really help them connect with me. But sometimes, they're very upfront about things. Like, on Saturday, this member-lady told me I was getting fat. I wasn't talking to her before. She just came up to me, and just said it!

And yes, it is sligggghtly true. Frankly, it's cuz of the bread. It's ridiculously cheap, and has a TON of yeast and usually stuffed with something like cream or cheese. And it's delicious. And when I say cheap, I mean realllly cheap. Most pieces of the bread are from like 1 to 5 pesos. 

My companion rarely speaks to me in English, and a lot of times I don't know where we're going, or what we're teaching, or who we're teaching. GAAHH I wish I could just learn this darn language! But, I know it's coming, and I can start putting more focus on other things, like the people.

Hey, I changed my mind. Would you please continue to send DearElder stuff? I really do like it after all.

Elder Thurber

Monday, September 2, 2013

8/26/2013 Banal na baka! (Holy Cow!)

Monday, 8/26/2013
Aborlan, Palawan

Banal na baka!

Sorry for the weird title. I've just been saying it a lot. Translated, it means holy cow. But obviously that's not a saying in Tagalog. But I still say it and it makes the people laugh a lot, so why not give them a taste of America?  But seriously, I've noticed since I've been here that there are so many colloquialisms in English! It makes translation sometimes a struggle. Lately, I've been noticing that my thought patterns are becoming much more simple so I can translate them into Tagalog pretty easily. 

I've also noticed that the people here aren't any different from the people in America. The only difference is their wealth, the language, and the environment. There are still deacon’s collars here. There are ward activities here. There are knowledgeable saints here and uneducated saints here. Time and time again I notice similarities between people I meet and people I know back home. 

Oh yeah--one other difference. The rain. It's always muddy here, and my umbrella saves me. Thankfully, I bought some rubber shoes for the equivalent of 4 dollars or so. What a deal! I'm wearing them right now. I'm always walking through dirt. I have to wash my shoes every day after I use them. 

I'm not progressing as much as I want to in listening to the language. I'm learning plenty of words and can often speak clearly for the Filipinos to understand me, but it's so hard to understand them. They talk so fast! I have my hypothesis why. Here's my premise: regardless of the language, people stream a certain amount of thoughts into their language at a certain rate. Because Tagalog requires more syllables than English does, they need to speak faster to keep up with their train of thought. I constantly ask people to help me with the language and to speak slowly. People are naturally helpful I've found out. 

There are plenty of remarkable things that happen here. For one, my companion and I tracted this one house that belonged to the "Simbahan Ni Cristo" church. Do you remember last week when I talked about Eglecian ni Cristo church? Well, it started in the Filippines, even though it has a Spanish name. Well, the “Simbahan ni Cristo” is the exact same name, only in Tagalog! It's only five years old. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. 

I gave a talk in church on Sunday. Lemme say... if you think writing a talk in English is hard, try writing one in another language you've been learning for only a month in a half. That's all. Oh, and Mike Sibellia came to church on Sunday, along with many of our other investigators! They all seem to be right on track. We actually hit two birds with one stone by teaching Mike; most of the rest of his family are inactive, and they came to church too! 

The people in our branch are great. We have a few RMs, and a lot of less-actives. About a third of all of our lessons are to less-actives. One of them lives literally 50 feet from the church, whereas some of the ward members have to travel 30 minutes by jeepney to get to church in the morning, which is quite a lot of money for them. 

My companion is an inspiration to me. He paid for his mission by himself. Additionally, he lived on his own when he was 15, and supported himself from that time on because his parents said they couldn't support him. He ALWAYS works hard. He has a good attitude. He constantly goes door to door with a smile on his face is and is bold enough to ask if people (who seem disinterested in us) if they want to hear the message. He's invited at least 30 people to church this past Sunday. He always tells them that I'm speaking, and they laugh a little bit. Sometimes they don't listen to him, but they often do because they realize that he is a caring person and stuff. 
A lot of people do not care about modesty, at least as American’s view modesty! Multiple times the women we’ve been teaching just out of the blue start breast feeding! Ahhhh! Culture-shock! On top of that, basically all of the kids under 4 years old don't wear pants, and go to the bathroom whenever they want, and wherever they want. 

I went on my very first exchange last Thursday with District Leader Elder Vang, who is "Mong," which is a race somewhere in Asia. He looks like Psy. He was really cool and taught good lessons, but it made me miss my tatay (dad) Elder Balonsong, because he is just so inspiring and fluent when talking and connecting with people. 

I hope to achieve that. It'll take a lot of time, though! Elder Hart, who is the other trainer in our house, says that he still doesn't feel fluent, and he's been out for 9 months. He can understand what people are saying most of the time, but when it comes to conversing he doesn't have the confidence that Elder Balonsong has to talk and joke with whoever he wants to approach. 
So, I'd like to say that I really do have the best trainer and companion in the mission. People said it at the mission home, and I believe it. 

I also am very lucky to be in Palawan right now because, in case you keep up with Filipino news, Manila is currently flooded right now, and missionaries there are supposed to either serve or stay inside the apartment.  I got an email just now from President Stucki saying that one missionary companionship got severely shocked while trying to serve. So again, I'm lucky to be where I am right now.

My companion and I are having a lot of success right now. About 8 people or so have accepted baptismal dates! It's always wonderful to hear their "opo" (yes) after some thought, because I know they're that much closer to returning to God!

Zone conference is tomorrow. Words cannot express my excitement to see my fellow batch-mates once again, even if there are only two of them. Also, I can't wait for good, American food! Here in Aborlan, there's walang (zero) fast food places. I think there's only one other mission that doesn't have any. It will be a great day. 

Yeah. I'm in the middle of nowhere. It's a good life! It's all very green and humid, but not as much as Virginia. Palm trees, natural wildlife, and a people who love the life they're living is the scene of Aborlan.
I love talking about my family and friends back home to the people here, even though I usually have to speak in broken Tagalog. It makes things always just a little more bearable thinking about the wonderful life I've had before coming on the mission. But it doesn't compare being on my mission! I'm certain I'm starting the best two years here. 

Mahal ko po kayo, kaibigan ko sa America! (I love you, friends in America!)

Elder Thurber 

P.S. here is my address for my LETTERS

Elder Matthew John Thurber
Philippines Manila Mission
PO Box 1997
Makati Central PO, Makati City
1200 Metro Manila

.... and my address for my PACKAGES

Elder Matthew John Thurber
Philippines Manila Mission
19 H.V. Dela Costa Street
Makati City
1222 Metro Manila

Please, oh please, oh please send me stuff!