Monday, October 27, 2014

In Which I Turn Over a New Leaf

Sister Fields in downtown Kampong Cham
Cumriabsua Everyone!

First of all, thank you for all the encouraging emails! It really made my day to get on and read them all. Last week was a little rough, but this past week was much better. 

It all started off with reading a really great devotional by Elder Holland called "The Miracle of a Mission." It completely changed my perspective of what a mission is supposed to be. If you haven't read it, google it and read it right now. The part that touched me the most was when he tells about President Hinckley's mission. President Hinckley went when he was a little bit older, after he had finished school, (I can relate to that) and he served in England. He spent all day proselyting and doing the soapbox thing and getting laughed at and rejected. He wrote home to his Dad after a little while and said it was time for him to go home, that he was wasting his time and his family's money. His Dad wrote him a one-sentence letter back which said: "Forget yourself and get to work."

My email last week was a lot like President Hinckley's, so his father's response really struck me. I realized that this is not about me. I need to be focusing on helping the people here, building up the branch, sharing scriptures and testifying in lessons, and making friends with my companion and roommates. And so I tried that this week, and the change was very stark. I was less self-conscious about my stuttering and lack of language knowledge. I was less homesick, and I just started to enjoy life more. I started to realize that I can do this thing. In this talk Elder Holland talked about how everything in life he owed to his mission, because he can trace back so many blessings in his life to the work he put it and the testimony he gained on his mission. I think this week I realized that it is a blessing to serve a mission. And I'm trying everyday to think of it that way. And to be grateful for this opportunity, because, as I've been told, it goes by quickly. 

Anyways. Just some thoughts. Here are some of this week's happenings:

We've had CRAZY rainstorms! In our bedroom that the four of us share, one wall is a sliding glass door. Monday night we had the craziest storm I've ever heard. We were all wide awake at about two in the morning because the thunder was deafening. And because one wall is window, the lighting would light up the entire room. We watched from the window and it looked like someone was turning on a light outside. We couldn't see any lightening bolts, but the entire sky lit up. All the while the rain just kept coming. We had a river running down our street! The whole place was flooded. It was pretty exciting! 

On Thursday it started pouring  while we were out proselyting. That morning it had been so hot and sticky. But then  we got drenched, and that night biking home in wet clothes I was cold! I didn't think that would happen in Cambodia! We are at the end of the rainy season here. And then "winter" will come and it will get "colder." We'll see how that goes. Actually, yesterday in church, each kid in the primary got a winter coat to take home. So maybe it will be cooler than I expected. At least at night without an insulated house, maybe?

We live in an apartment above a house of a member in another branch. She came out and met us one night as we were parking our bikes and insisted that we come over for lunch. The general rule is not to eat at members houses very often, mainly because most of them don't have the means to feed us, and they are too generous, but also because of health reasons. But this family is by far the most well-to-do family (at least by evidence of their house) that I've met here. We had a noodle soup that was delicious and lots of fruit. We looked at wedding pictures of her daughter who had married an American RM here in Cambodia. And her little boy's name is Mosiah! 

We spend most of our days visiting less actives and recent converts, or often, recent converts who are also less active. Sometimes (often times) they are not very receptive. I've realized that I have a hard time reading these people. It's not just the language barrier (which is still VERY MUCH a thing) but it's also just that I can't tell if they're feeling the spirit or if anything we are saying is sinking in. But this week we did see some of the less actives we visited at church. So that was exciting. 

I'm learning a lot about what it means to be a member. I think before my mission I always thought about church and the gospel in regards to me, rather than other people. I'd go for my own personal uplifting (or more often just out of obligation). But I'm so grateful for the strong, active, willing to participate members here. As Sister P. has said, church here often feels like a collection of individuals, rather than a family. And part of that is that more often than not, it's individuals who get baptized, and not families together. Or moms will bring their children (who run around outside). But it's so cool to see the few strong families that come. And then to see them fellowshipping other members of the branch. Because that's the key. Missionaries come and go so often (and like us, sometimes are whitewashing and come with NO prior knowledge), so it's the members that really need to be there to help one another. We met with the Relief Society president this week (who's awesome!) and taught her about visiting teaching. We're hoping that might become a thing. We need a strong sense of sisterhood especially I think here. These women have incredibly hard lives. And too often someone will say something about someone and that's how people become inactive. But if they could have a solid frienship in the  branch, that would make such a difference. 

There's one in particular neighborhood called Phum Tenang that is really rough. These people live in shacks and there are naked children and mean, stray dogs, and trash everywhere. One thing this week that's been heavy was meeting with a woman in that neighborhood. She lives in a dirt shack with her three children. She comes to church with two on the back of her bike and her baby in the basket. Her husband drinks and gambles and cheats on her. We met with her this week and she told us that things aren't going to work with them anymore. But that they have no money, and that he wants to sell her two oldest children (9 and 4). And she would take the baby and move far away with her mom. We didn't know what to do about that. Sister P. said she'd never had something like this happen before. So we set up an appointment with her to meet with our Branch President. But then she didn't show up to the meeting. We met with him later and learned some more things about her. She also drinks and gambles and has been given a lot of money from the church already. So they don't know what to do either. 

It's heavy stuff. And all of our members (or at least a lot) just deal with poverty and family situations on a daily basis. And honestly, what they need, I think is just more faith. But I don't know if I can tell them that. Because for some of them, not working in order to go to church might mean they don't have enough food that day. I have never faced any problem like that in the world. not even close! And I don't know if I would have that faith, actually I probably wouldn't. It's just a different world here. 

These are lessons I didn't think I'd learn on my mission. Keep in mind this is all coming from someone who considered visiting teaching leaving cookies and a note on someone's doorstep on the night of the last day of the month. So, yeah... I'm learning lots here.

I'm also learning to appreciate Kampongcham a lot more. It's really quite beautiful actually. It's right on the MeKong river. It has a unique downtown area, and then it also has really rural, very lush countrysides. I'm learning to look out and enjoy these things as I'm biking around. And I'm enjoying the biking part more too.

One last thought: Another thing I've been thinking about a lot is about grace. That's a word I never really paid much attention to, but I read a Liahona article by Elder Bednar about it. And in it, he equates the word grace with the enabling power of the Atonement. And then I read another article that I don't remember who wrote it (how are my citations so far..?) also about the Atonement and grace. In it he shared a story of a girl who was talking to him one time who said something along the lines of, people say that we just have to do our best and Christ will do the rest, but what if I can't even do my best? I feel this way a lot. It's so easy to get down on myself (particularly when it comes to the language) and think about all that I could be doing more. But that's not how grace, or the enabling power of the atonement works. Christ isn't at the finish line waiting for us after we can do all that we can do. He's with us the entire time, helping us along the entire time if we just turn to Him. That thought is so much more comforting and empowering I think.

Well, that's all for this week. Thank you all for your encouraging thoughts. This is hard, but I know that it's going to be worth it! I love you all!

Sister Fields
The more rural area.

Mekong river

I don't know if you can tell, but this building is right on the river. After a few storms, it started to crack and fall. We drove past it the other day after the BIg storm and it was gone! It was in the river. We used it as an object lesson yesterday about the wise and foolish man with a less active girl we met with!
Me and Muay Lii in the rain! She and her mom are recent converts. She's 12 or so and reminds me of a little Hermione. She knows all the answers in lessons. Her mom is crippled and so has to take a motorcycle taxi to church each week. Two weeks ago for conference she had to save up so that she could go there and back and out there again. They are so strong and great!

Lunch with the member who lives downstairs and the other missionaries we live with.

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