Sunday, January 18, 2015

In Which I Learn to Appreciate the Little Things

Baptism! Srei Khuat and some of her family members/the family of the neighbor that baptized her.

It's that time of the week again. When 5:00 pm rolls around on P-day, it feels like the week will take forever. But it always goes by relatively quickly. I think there's something about doing the same thing every day that makes time go by fast. 

So this week I want to talk about tender mercies because I'm realizing that they really are a thing. This week started off a bit rough. I know I sound like a broken record complaining about the language, but it still just keeps hitting me in the face. And even though now with a local companion my language is improving, I'm also placed in so many more situations a day in which I have to use my Khmer unsuccessfully. I found myself really dreading leaving the house. But then when we were out I found myself dreading going back home. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to. And I started to realize I was going through culture shock a little bit. 

Cambodia is the least Westernized place I've ever been in my life. We never hear American music or see familiar billboards or ads. There are two American chain restaurants here. The "western" food is a Cambodia take on pizza or hamburgers. Even though the city has a lot more of that kind of food than Kampongcham, it still isn't the same. 

As I was in the midst of my depression last week I started to get frustrated with myself. I'm an anthropologist!! I should LOVE my life right now. Living in the middle of Cambodia. Learning the language from the locals. Eating local food made by my Khmer companions. But here's the thing. Missionary life is nothing like the life of a tourist. And every time I've come to SE Asia before, I've been a tourist. I'm an excellent tourist. I love wats and museums and taking pictures. I buy way too much at markets where they hike up their prices as they see me coming. And then I like to go back to my hotel, and go on Facebook and speak English.

This took a turn... what I'm saying is I think these past few weeks in Pochentong I've been dealing with another round of culture shock. I don't love Cambodia yet. Is that too honest? I don't. But the other day as I was riding my bike with dust in my lungs, the smell of raw meat from the markets wafting my way, and the mechanical ice cream truck tune mixing with the chanting of monks, I realized something. I'm not going to be here forever. And maybe I won't ever really learn to love all the details about life in Cambodia. But on some day in the not so distant future I'll be on one of those planes that flies over my area every day. And I want to be able to say that I enjoyed these 18 months. Not just that I grew spiritually and formed good relationships (because I know those things will happen and they already have so far) but that I had fun. President Moon says that a lot. "I want you to have fun on your mission." 

And sometimes that's hard. Because every day I do EXACTLY THE SAME THING. But this is where you have to look out for the little things. Just finding humor in little things and the little miracles and tender mercies too. Here are three examples from this week:

Tuesday night I was having a rough time. On my ride home that night I had a conversation with Heavenly Father. I felt really alone. And I doubted His ability to help me feel better. Who could help me? Everyone I love is on another continent. Or, at the very least, in a different part of Cambodia. That night Sis Choek had me call Sis Moon about some medicine she needed. After we got that figured out Sister Moon asked me, "Sister Fields, how are you doing? I've been thinking about you and praying for you the past few days?" She said she noticed I looked a little down at the mission home (really just because my package wasn't there)! And then she told me that she knew coming the city for the first time can be a hard adjustment. And being with a local companion for the first time is definitely an adjustment. President Moon is great for spiritual upliftment. But Sister Moon I feel like just understands and commiserates from a mom's perspective. She told me all her kids who served missions had a really rough time for the first six months, but that it gets better. And it will continue to get better. I shouldn't have doubted Heavenly Father. Far too often I forget this, but He is always aware of us and all the little details. All the feelings that even us at the time feel stupid for feeling. He knows and He cares. 

Tender mercy number two. THE SUPER STORE! Okay. So the "TESCO" of Cambodia is called "Lucky's." I still haven't been to it. But I've heard it carries American food and brands and things. I wanted to stop there on the way home, but Sister Choek suggested the Superstore because it's on the way home. I walked in and almost cried. That's not an exaggeration. It was clean! And empty! And they were playing "The Prayer" (I don't know why about that last one). And there was produce! Not being sold at a market by a Neakming! It had stickers! Of course I didn't buy any. Don't be silly. That is what the market is for after all. But I did stock up. Cereal, cookies, chocolate, toilet paper. I'm in love.

Tender mercy number three. Sister Som! A recently returned missionary in our branch from England! We've been struggling to get members to help us with our lessons this week (well this whole time really). And on Thursday Sister Som called us. She came along and I realized how much I miss just chatting with people. (I still can't really just "chat"in Khmer). Hopefully she will continue to be able to help us. It's always great when we can get members to help out. But when a RM comes along it's really helpful. Because they just get it. 

So basically things are going okay. Sorry, this email turned a bit melodramatic in the middle there. I promise I'm not depressed. Actually, my emotions are kind of all over the place. Am I the only missionary who feels like that? Some moments are really really cool. And I feel the Spirit so strong and I know why I'm supposed to be here. And some moments I just want to hop a tuk tuk to the airport and get on a plane. I just have to focus on the good moments. 

I had one of those "I'm really doing this" moments this week. It happened as I was doping our member helper on the back of my bike. Have I talked about doping? I hate it so much. But I can do it now. You put someone on the back of the bike above the wheel and give them a ride. As I biked along the potholed road, chatting in Khmer with my member's hands on my seat, I thought. Okay. I'm doing this. I don't have it all down totally yet. But I'm well on my way. 

Now for some updates! This week we had a baptism! Srei Khuat got baptized on Saturday. I think I've mentioned her before. She's about 20 and she's married and 7 months pregnant. She lives along the train tracks in a very small room of a rental building. She doesn't know how to read, and she's not the fastest at catching on to things. But she has faith! To be honest I was a bit worried about baptizing her because she's only been able to come to church twice (she's sick a lot and pregnant). But she learned quickly because she has a lot of free time; and seeing as she was our only progressing investigator, so did we. 

The baptism was a bit chaotic, a bit being an understatement here. It was supposed to start at three. But it ended up happening around 4:30. Our BM forgot about it/didn't really understand everything he's supposed to do because he's only 18. Basically no one turned on the font to fill it up in time. Then we didn't have the right keys. Because it was on Saturday, none of the members knew about it. Me and the American elder ended up giving talks (with a 30 second warning)--don't ask me why he asked the foreigners to wing talks out of two Khmers! And then the member doing the baptism didn't have the whole procedure down, so she ended up going under three times. 

I'm not gonna lie, I was stressed out and a little bit frustrated. But I learned some things. Don't trust anyone. Just kidding. But I learned the importance of following up and not assuming that things are just going to happen. If there's one thing I'm learning here in Pochentong, it's to be more proactive! And the important thing is that Srei Khuat had a good experience and I really think she did. Her whole face was lit up as she shared a short and sweet testimony after the baptism. And it's really cool that a member could baptize her. He's her next-door neighbor, and he originally referred the sisters to her before I got here. And then she got confirmed the next day during sacrament meeting. We will continue to visit her a lot and support her. It'll be a bit tricky in the next few months as she has the baby. But I have faith in her and her faith. 

And here's a cool thing! So the night of the baptism we stopped by her house to share a quick lesson about the gift of the Holy Ghost to help her prepare for her confirmation tomorrow, and we met her neighbor who also wants to learn. She and her husband learned with the missionaries a long time ago, but she hadn't been to church yet or gotten baptized. But her husband still reads The Book of Mormon. We invited her to church the next day and she came and stayed two hours! We taught her the first lesson last night. It was a bit chaotic (music blaring, baby crying) but I'm learning that's just kind of how life goes around here. And the Spirit knows how to work around it I think. So I'm looking forward to teaching her. She likes to talk a LOT. She told us she has seen God in her dreams before. Which I think at first I would have dismissed. But I'm learning that's a reoccurring thing here, which goes to show again, I think, that Heavenly Father is so aware of us. He understands culture quite a bit I think. And He knows how we will best receive spiritual experiences. Khmer place a lot of significance in dreams. 

So things are looking up over here in Pochentong! Things are good. God is good. Over and out. 

Sister Fields

Even though we're in the city, we still see things like this! This was a flock of ducks blocking the road on the way out to our recent convert's house. 

Going out to lunch last p-day (a perk of living in the city, lots of friends!) My comp is sitting across from me. She doesn't like pictures... 

This gives you a good view of our area from the balcony of an apartment of a member.

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