Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In Which I Become BFFs with Elder Holland

Saying goodbye to Battambang.

Greetings from Phnom Penh.  I just couldn't stay away too long. The city missed me too much. It's giving me all kinds of flashbacks to my months in the city. Now it's feeling like I've been here the whole time and Battambang is some sort of a hazy dream. But I'm excited for this round in the city. It's going to be great. Sister Xiong is so awesome, and we have so much in common already. Training is going to be an exciting challenge, even though let's be real, it's only the last three weeks. She knows a lot already.

Okay but first, let's start at the beginning of the week. Back in Battambang. This week I was reunited with my MTC companion!  We have spent approximately zero time together in the field. We just have never served near each other. But she and Sister J. are "senior sister training leaders" (a new leadership position that equals Sister AP--it's awesome), so they came up and did an exchange with us. Because Battambang is a million miles a way from the rest of the world, they stayed two nights. Sleepover time! It was really great to see them. Sister J. ended her mission yesterday, and it was sad to see her go. It's been really fun getting to know all these sisters. I don't know how closely knit our mission is compared to others, but ours is really great. I think it helps that we don't have very many sisters in our mission. Especially now. We're down to maybe 20! 

Sister S. came with Sister E. and I in branch one, and it was super fun to be with her again. It was fun to hear her speak Khmer and ride our bikes around Cambodia together and do all the things we thought we could never do back in the MTC. This week has been one of a lot of reflection. And being with her was a reminder of how much we've both grown over this past year. Missions are cool. 

It was the definition of a bittersweet week this week. I had to part with my beloved Battambang --the first place I've ever loved on my mission and felt like I could be an effective missionary. And everyone I've met her is so wonderful. I couldn't make anyone any promises, but I told them I really hoped to come back in the future. It's really cool to leave everyone on such a great note. Even though it's only been two and a half months, it feels like the time flew by, I have seen such great progress in so many of these people I love. Like Ming Thida. When I came in May she had just barely learned the first three lessons and was barely coming off the fence about things. Now she's so solid and has literally given us five referrals in two weeks. I told her she's basically a missionary already. And Om Chanda. She's so committed now to that new baptismal date. She's determined to come to church every single week for the rest of her life and "walk down God's path with her family." Hearing her talk about it all almost made me cry. She was my and Sister Al.'s street contact! So cool too see. They are just going to keep moving forward. And those kids are going on missions, I'm determined to see it happen. We also had one last good lesson with Om Jonhan. They were pretty torn up about me leaving. It think it's hard especially because Sister A. only left three weeks ago! Shortest transfer ever. But they love Sister K. and E. already, so it's going to be fine. We shared with Jonhan a simple, simple lesson about eternal families and family history. His wife died several years ago, and I just really wanted him to understand the concept. It takes a while to get to that point, but he gets it. I've seen him progress a lot already. I know he has real faith. When I told him that he can see his wife again and really live with her again he said, "really?" And I could tell by looking in his eyes that he really got it. And wanted it. So that was a cool moment. I'm excited to hear from the other sisters how everyone continues to progress.

Also on Friday, Tin got baptized! It was a very cool experience. Due to factors probably within our control, we got to the church five minutes before it was supposed to start! But also it's Cambodia. There's Mormon standard time and then there's Cambodia standard time, and they're not a great mix. But anyway, we showed up and she comes running out the door with a huge smile on her face and gives us each a big hug. It was cute. It's fun to see how much she's blossomed. She carries a light within her now. She was the only one getting baptized, so it was a sweet and simple program. Elder C. baptized her (he was my desk buddy at the MTC, and it was his first baptism, so that was cool too). Sister K. did something I loved just before she went in. She pulled her aside in the bathroom just before we went into the font, and reminded her again what a special day it was and what she was about to do. She told her not to be scared, but just to pay attention to how she feels. And then she went down in the water. I loved that so much, and I'm going to start doing that with all my investigators. She bore a sweet, simple testimony that she was so happy today. She's lived across from the Branch President's family for a few years and would always watch them pile onto their moto every Sunday morning, and she said she always wanted to join them. And now she's here and so happy. It was a sweet moment. And a perfect way to end my time in Battambang. 

Saturday we headed down to the city (after packing up my stuff again. Sometimes I feel like packing is all I do on my mission). The Elders arranged for us to go down in a van. Somebody remind me not to trust elders to arrange things! You'd think I would have learned my lesson by now. Just kidding (but only kind of). We met in the church parking lot. I rolled in with my two, nicely packed bags and sat them beside the FIVE bags the only Elder transferring out had. Okay, that might have been an exaggeration, but our van rolls up and it is not quite what we pictured. There's nine of us and at least five big suitcases, and we've got a Toyota Sienna. Turns out the original guy they called with a much larger van cancelled the night before. So as we were telling our new van driver that there's no way this was going to work, Then a random neakming pulls up on a moto. She said she was a neighbor and in the middle of drying fish on her roof, when she observed us and realized our predicament. Out of nowhere she pulls a new van off the road. But this is one of those sketchy Cambodian vans that straps all the luggage to the back of the van on a little wooden platform with stretchy cables. We all stared at it for a moment, but seeing no other options, we piled in, along with the two unfortunate other passengers already seated. It was a bit of a miserable trip. It's one of those vans that drives along picks up anyone who needs a ride and takes them as far as they want to go. But it was five dollars a person, so I suppose you get what you pay for. And after a very cramped ride, we did make it to the city. 

Because all the missionaries came in from the khets, they had a lot of missionaries stay with missionaries in the city. We went to the Steungmenchey house, and it was a party. There were nine of us all together. Sis H. came with her comp Sister S. from Kampongcham. And we stayed with Sis A. and Y. with their companions. So it was a good time. Food was a bit scarce, but we made it work. French fries, pancakes, cake and spaghetti. We're basically Khmer! Also, we had an adventure Sunday night. Somehow some of us ended up making brownies in the microwave in the middle of the night. Who knows, it was probably a spiritual prompting, after we realized how everything went down.... we were in the kitchen and all of a sudden we hear water in the bathroom. It sounded like someone was showering, but in order to go in the bathroom they'd have to pass by us. Slightly freaked out, we slowly opened the door and water was squirting out from the wall like a hose. Somehow a pipe randomly broke, and the bathroom filled up with water so fast! After two minutes of trying to bail it with a bucket, we ended up having to call and wake up our land lady next door. Good thing she's kind. But it was an adventure, ankle deep in water, all in our pajamas trying to keep us all from flooding by morning. 

Okay, now for the good part. I MET ELDER HOLLAND!! It really happened. We got to attend two meetings with him.Sunday morning we all headed over to this big venue for a meeting with all the members. I have no idea how big it was, but all the seats were filled. As we drove together in a tuk tuk, we kept seeing members from all different wards ride by. It was pretty exciting. We got there early and were there to see everyone arrive. It was such a cool experience. At the risk of sounding far too sister missionary-esque, it felt like heaven. All these members and missionaries we hadn't seen in so long all in one place. There were so many hugs and pictures. And then you'd turn around and see someone else you hadn't seen in a long time. They cancelled church for all members in the city and provided buses to go to the venue. I saw a ton of members from Pochentong, which helped get me excited to serve in the city again and hopefully see them around again. We share the same stake center. But it was so fun such a joyous reunion. I saw also saw Sister Choek and Sister Khim and a bunch of sisters that ended their missions already. So fun. 

And then we settled in to our seats. The elders and sisters took the back few rows, so the members could be closest. Elder Holland entered and we all stood. He blew kisses out to us. It was so surreal. It's one thing to see apostles in the MTC or the conference center, but to see him here in Cambodia was too cool! After a few words and testimonies by some members and leaders and the Christensens, Elder Holland spoke. One of the Stake Presidents translated for him. (Sidenote: translating for Elder Holland sounds absolutely terrifying, does it not?). 

I won't share a ton of what he said in the member meeting because I want to share everything he said in the missionary meeting, and I want to keep your attention. It's so hard to pick and choose what to share, it was all so good! But the first thing he said was that he has enjoyed Cambodia so much and wanted to stay in PP. He said there would probably be a bulletin in the Church News--"Apostle missing, if found please return to church headquarters". He focused his message to investigators, recent converts, and youth. He shared the reasons why he would join this church if he weren't already a member and why the whole world should. He hit on the restoration, Book of Mormon, temples, and the rising generation. And I'm trying to summarize Elder Holland, and everyone knows that doesn't work. But know that it was beautiful. It was simple and a perfect message for our members. He hit on all the points in lesson 1! As he left he pronounced a blessing on the members of Cambodia. He blessed all those that had righteous desires that they may be fulfilled, that the priesthood holders would respect the priesthood, and that the faith-filled women who keep this church strong will continue on. He blessed the children to go on missions and marry in the temple, and that all the families will always embrace all the blessings of the gospel. He promised that someday Cambodia would have a temple. It will still be a while, but someday, it will come. That was a promise. 

After goodbyes, the missionaries all caravaned over to the South Stake Center. After a quick lunch, we lined up to take a picture. And after strict instructions to be reverent (because turns out, we're capable of acting like twelve-year olds) Elder Holland came in. We took a group picture with him and then we lined up and got an individual handshake. They snapped a picture. It felt a little like graduation. We told him our names and where we were from. When it was my turn he told me "Oh, I know Gig Harbor" (!!!) We're best friends already. We filed in to the chapel and took the front row (obviously). So we were about five feet away from him the whole time. It felt very surreal. (Sidenote: It was actually the second time I shook his hand. The first time was about two years ago in a Barnes & Noble in Orem. Weird life!) 

His remarks had kind of two parts. The first half was about missions in general, and reminded me quite a bit of things he shared in his "The Miracle of a Mission" talk. It was awesome. He started off very friendly, telling us he was happy to meet us all and give us a handshake. He's sad he can't interview all of us, but when he gives us an handshake and looks into our eyes, it's like he's giving us a mini interview. He told us he loved being in Cambodia and being with the Christensens. Then he said what I had so longed to hear for a long time. That we all special because we were missionaries, but by definition we were special because they don't send just anybody to Cambodia. I felt so vindicated. That's probably not how I should have felt. But I felt like he understood all those times I sweated, stuttered and cried. He told us we were right at the edge of the frontier of the Church. Cambodia is hard. And Elder Holland just told me that. But then he got so serious and intense all of a sudden. He told us he wanted us to take our missions more seriously than anything in our whole lives. Pounding the pulpit, he told us to never talk about going back to "real life." This is real life. This is as close to real life as we will ever get. He said his mission meant everything to him. In those 24 months everything changed, and there hasn't been a day in 50 years that he hasn't thought about it. So he committed us to love this work and not miss a minute of it--the rain, mud, sickness, rejection--whatever happens embrace it, love it, and make it a part of who you are. You can go home, but you can never go back to who you were. If you do this right, you will never be the same. He told us we are God's investigators. We are taught, prepared, and advanced in the kingdom just like our investigators. What we want for investigators is what the Lord wants for us: change. He said we must ensure for ourselves at least one convert, that convert being us. Somewhere along the way we may lose sheep (we don't want to, but unfortunately in happens), but we should never lose shepherds. He told us to work first on ourselves, and let the converts fall where they may. 

He then gave us a very practical application for missionary work, which was super cool. He pulled out a whiteboard and had us open our scriptures together. Sharing from John 3, he walked us through the story of Nicodemus who came to ask questions of Christ. Christ talks about baptism as being born again and Nicodemus doesn't get it at all. He took us to verse 8 where Christ compares the Spirit to the wind, and talked about the necessity to make sure we are on the same level as our investigators. There are so many things that hold our investigators back from understanding: vocabulary, ignorance, traditions, a lack of perspective, not recognizing the Spirit, etc. Our role is to create a spiritual experience, to meet them at the level they are on and them bring them up. We can't expect them to know everything. They don't receive a Ph.D in Mormon theology after they pass their baptismal interview. They are all coming out of traditions and apostate worlds. We have to go where they are, share the gospel with them there. At that level, and then we can take them to higher planes--to the Sacred Grove, to Gethsemane. He told us not to get discouraged. That missionary work is hard, but it's designed to be hard. Conversion is difficult because salvation is not a cheap experience. Why would it be easy for an investigator or a missionary if it was never easy for the Savior. It has always been hard. If we want to be a disciple of Christ, we must be willing to walk where He walked and experience just a taste of what He did. We must walk through the corners of Gethsemane because the road to salvation always cuts through the Garden, where we must carry our own little cross. But we must do it for Him. For the Savior of the world. 

He ended his message; and after the closing song and prayer, he got up to leave. We all stood up with him. He was about to walk off the stand and then he stopped. The sister at the piano stopped playing. And we all stood there looking at him. He looked out at all of us and said with a crack in his voice and tears in his eyes that he could blink twice and see himself there. He said someday some of us would be doing this. He never thought it would be him. We all just stood there watching him walk out, wondering what that meant. I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. And I've realize how much trust they have in us (the apostles, prophet, ultimately, the Lord). It's scary. But that's why Elder Holland came down so hard on us, because the stakes are so high and so much trust is in our hands.

So it was a beautiful day. And I feel like I should end there. But I'll say a quick note about yesterday because yesterday I transferred! I'm in Toulkork and Teuk L'ak now with Sister Xiong. And I'm training!  My new companion is Hmong-American. She's very tied to her Hmong side, so when I told her my Hmongness she was sooo excited.   Even though I kicked out her old mother, she still loves me. We've decided that I will be her adopted mother. I get a good 25% of her at least. And we're going to have a lot of fun together. She reminds me so much of myself in training, it's kind of freaking me out a little bit, because now I start to see myself acting a little bit like my trainer. And I can't believe how the tables have turned! But I'm really excited to be with her. I feel like because I relate her I can help her open up a little bit and keep progressing in the language. I can't say how weird it is to be the one who knows more Khmer. It just helps me realize how much I really have progressed in a year. It's going to be great, and I'm way excited!

Ahhhhh, that was a long one. But it was a big week! I think that's all though, have a good week everyone!


Sister Fields

Ming Livan

Tin''s baptism. 

Om Jonhan and Bong Sokha.

Me and Sister S. (MTC comp) ride again.

This is what nine people stuffed in a tuk tuk looks like!

Sleepover pancake night and exchanges with Sister J and S.

Flooded bathroom!


At the venue.

Elder Holland's talk notes.

My new companion with both of her mothers.

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