Monday, October 20, 2014

In Which I Meet A Talking Bird

Sister Fields and her companion with a sister missionary who was showing her parents around her mission on her way home.

Well, I made it through my first official week in the field. And I have a question: For all those of you who have served missions, how did you do it?? Serving missions is such a normal thing in the church and I think I came in pretty naive to the amount of work it would be. I thought, hey I'm a college grad, I've even lived in South East Asia before! This week has been humbling. I have a new-found respect for the 18-year-old boys who come straight out of high school! Not to dissuade people from serving missions. Maybe it's like childbirth and you forget all the bad stuff (or so I'm told). Stay tuned. 

I've learned a lot about the church in Cambodia this week. As they celebrated the 20th anniversary this year, it is still very new. I am told that our work here in Kampong Cham is about strengthening the branch and the members as much as it is about finding new people to teach. There are about 8,000 members and about 3,000 are active. So this week we focused on meeting our members, inactive members, and recent converts. 

The majority of the members of our branch live in two different neighborhoods (or Phums). So we spent a lot of time in those two areas. Both are a bit rough. Though there are some very nice houses here (and I've learned Kampong Cham is one of the more well-to-do cities in Cambodia) the members are still quite poor. We spent a lot of time in very humble houses this week. 

There are two girls in our branch preparing to leave on missions (both the same age as me and my companion) who have been lots of help to us this week. They will meet up with us and go meet members. Since Cambodia doesn't really use addresses, missionaries draw maps on our CBRs (convert baptism records) with important landmarks listed like "pile of toilets" or "big house with lots of poor people." Needless to say, having a member along who knows the area can be a big help. 

We have met a lot of people, and I have been able to keep them mostly straight in my head. Fortunately, lots of our records have pictures. It was exciting on Sunday to see a lot of them at Church! 

As far as investigators go, we've taught a couple first lessons to a couple different people. We met one woman (a referral from the Branch President's family) on Tuesday who was super great and really wanted to learn. She had a Christian background and had felt recently like she needed to return to her old faith. We met with her and with a member and had a really great lesson. She took a Book of Mormon and was excited to read it. But unfortunately, she has bad health, and decided to move back to Phnom Penh for a while. She wanted to get in touch with the missionaries there though, so that's good. 

On Wednesday we met went to visit the home of a recent convert and her friend was over. She said she wanted to learn, but was too busy (which is an excuse we hear a lot). We offered to teach her the first lesson right now, and she accepted. So we'll see how that goes. 

Basically, whitewashing is really hard. We're starting from scratch here, and it's hard not to get discouraged. But it'll work out. We will help the people who we are supposed to help. And if nothing else, we're going to leave the branch a little better and stronger than when we found it. 

I'm starting to become more familiar with the area. It is a beautiful place. And we have an interesting mix of city and rural area. Early in the week the branch mission leader (who is a tuk tuk driver) took us around and way out in the country to meet some members. It was fun ride. We also learned that we have an island in our area! The Mekong river runs along one side of our area. Apparently there's a ferry that goes out there. So at some point, we'll have to check that out. 

In order to get out to Phum Tenang (where a lot of our inactive members are) we have to ride out pretty far. The other day I almost hit a cow. So between the cows and the roundabouts, I'll probably have some bike incident.

Okay, time for some highlights (and lowlights) of the week:

--I met a bird who speaks Khmer better than I do! (Which isn't too hard...) Out in Phum Tenang a former investigator invited us under her roof for a little bit to escape a rainstorm. And there was this little bird that shrieked and talked Khmer! It kept saying the name of the neighborhood over and over. And hello.

--I gave my very first talk in Cambodian! It was far from a success, but I will never have to talk for the first time ever again! We thought that the Branch President would probably ask us to speak, so we prepared short talks. Mine was probably only two minutes. I talked about receiving answers through prayer. The first half was a stuttery mess. I stuttered on probably every other word. But it got a little smoother towards the end.

--At church we met a sister missionary who was finishing, and her parents were visiting the area and picking her up. They were very nice and said nice things about my talk. It was nice to talk to the Sister as well and she commiserated with me about how hard the first few weeks (and months) are. It's just nice to be reminded that I'm not supposed to know a whole lot now. And that it will get better. 

--I popped my bike tire! I was driving along and must have rolled over something sharp, because it made a huge squeal and popping noise. Luckily I was going pretty slow at the time and we were only about a block away from a bike repair shop. But the tire split almost the whole way around! It was pretty crazy.

--One of my favorite moments this week was learning that President and Sister Moon were coming to visit! They came Friday and he spent the morning interviewing missionaries. So Friday morning we met them at the church. When I wasn't in the interview, I chatted with Sister Moon. She made each of us a loaf of banana bread! It was so delicious. My interview with President Moon was really great. I told him my concerns about learning the language and my fears about doing this whole mission in general, and he gave me a lot of great advice. I wish they could come visit more often. 

--We've started teaching English. We'll teach every Wednesday night at the church for an hour. The class is supposed to be 18 and up, but we had four kids/teeens come last week. We taught them about numbers and telling time. It reminded me of Thailand, and it was a lot of fun. It also felt nice to teach something I was good at for once!

--We've been having a lot of rainstorms in just the past few days. Even though it's still the rainy season, it hasn't been raining much lately. But the past few nights we've gone to bed with the rain pounding outside. The streets were flooded at night, but were dry by the morning! Our power has gone off a few times, but never longer than a few minutes thankfully.

It's been hard to adjust to this new lifestyle. One suggestion I received from President Moon is to chunk the time. Not to think of it as 18 months, but as just these 12 weeks of training until Christmas. And just think of a few goals to set. I won't be a perfect missionary by any means, but I can improve. And if that's too much to think about, just think about getting through the day. So this week I've been waking up and telling myself to just get through the day. And it struck me the other day as I was struggling to contribute in a lesson, that it won't always be this hard. It won't necessarily get easier, but I will get better. And have faith that I will love this. It's just going to take some time. As I get to know people better and we start finding investigators, I hope that I will be able to see the good changes that come from the gospel. I think that will help me remember the real reason why I'm here. 

So it's been an interesting experience here in this town. I imagine that we are seeing something similar to what the Church must have been like when it first started out. People don't always understand what it means to be a member. There are misunderstandings about doctrine (as I observed in church on Sunday). But people have incredible spiritual experiences. For example, in Khmer culture dreams have incredible significance. When they have a dream, they will always seek out it's meaning. Lots of members and converts have experiences in which they have spiritual dreams and visions. God will talk to them in their dreams. At first I was a bit skeptical, but as I learn more about it I'm realizing that Heavenly Father knows all his children. He knows every language and every culture and so he knows how best to communicate with his children in ways that they will understand and treasure.

Well, that's all for now. I hope all is well in America. Feel free to email me! I love emails! (


Sister Fields

The church. It's a rented space right now, but the church is building a real church across the street!

A shot of the city.

This was a meal I ate last week. I ordered a hot dog, but, silly me, forgot to order the "hot dog bread"to go with it.

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