Friday, January 31, 2014

Amazing investigator!

Dear family,

Thank you so much for all the kind words and support you gave me this week!  I was really feeling down last week, and it was such a relief to talk to you all last preparation day.  I feel much better now, and I really was lifted up by all your help, advice, and prayers in my behalf.

This week was much better than last week.  First of all, I'd like to tell you about a lesson we had with our one investigator, who I'll call Stan in this email.  Stan is the one who's wife is a recent convert of about 3 months, and who is the most prepared person to receive the gospel on the face of the planet.  In our first meeting with him, before we had even mentioned baptism, he said to us, "After I'm baptized, ... (and then something like, "can I attend church in a different branch if I'm traveling there?")  He asked us if he could be baptized on the 15th of February, and after giving a lot of thought and consulting with Elder Loke for about zero seconds, we both cried "YES!"
He has been reading scriptures and praying with his wife every day.  He studies by watching the Book of Mormon videos on his tablet, then reading the chapters about which he watched.  We went to his house this week to talk to him about 1 Nephi 8, Lehi's vision.  When we got there, we showed him a picture about the vision, and immediately, he explained to us what each part of the vision represented, and what it meant to him.
We said, a little surprised, "Wow, did you pick that all up just from reading chapter 8 this week?" 
He replied, "No, it didn't make sense the first time, but I continued, and found that Nephi explains it pretty clearly a few chapters later." 
We gladly abandoned our lesson plan, and addressed a few questions he had about the Isaiah chapters he was currently rereading.
Elder and Sister Schollenberger, who came with us to Stan's house, asked if they could instead, show a picture of the Hong Kong temple and explain a little bit about how temples could bless their marriage.
Stan said, "Oh good, I actually had hoped to learn more about temples.  You know, my wife and I talked about it this week, and made plans to go to the Melbourne temple on February 16, 2015.  What would you like to say?"
Elder Schollenberger said, after a moment's shock, "Well, that was a good lesson.  Can we have cake and go now?"
Perhaps this whole incident isn't exactly clear to you, in the way that I described it, but just know that the Lord led a young, miracle couple of investigators to us, and they are basically just teaching me the finer points of the gospel of Jesus Christ by their example.  We can't keep up with them!  I'm so glad God has blessed me with this opportunity to see real "kingdom builders" here in JB, and I pray that I will continue to meet a few more in my mission.
I knew, but had never witnessed in such real time, the profound impact that living gospel principles has on the lives of individuals and families, of all ages, and the miraculous changes that can take place in lives as they accept Christ with faith, and press forward with real intent.  I hope that all of us will remember the blessing that our family heritage in the gospel is, and that we will treasure it by always living faithfully and being exactly true to what we know.  It's something I'm trying to do now, and something I know the Lord can help us with, regardless of whether we're missionaries or members.


A typical, hazy sunset in Johor Bahru.

A little Hawker stand, with the best rice I've ever had: Nasi Lemak ( or as Elder Wang says, Lasilama) which is cooked in coconut milk, and kept in that huge wooden barrel before it's spooned into the little plastic-y paper.  I found new meaning in the phrase "paper plate"

The whiteboard after our first branch family home evening, put on by the missionaries.  When all our other plans fell through, and only a couple people came, I made up a game about following the prophet, on the spot.  This was our "Captain Clueless"- style wilderness, which blindfolded Nephites had to be guided through by the prophet, as the crowd yelled wrong directions at them, trying to get them to run into cacti, rocks, wolves, time-traveling Gadiantons, and other unseen dangers.

 Elder Loke, posing beneath the red sun, as we try to find former investigators at their homes.

Brennan: Let me know if you have any questions I can answer in today's emails.

Mom:  Do you have an oven?

Brennan:  I have a small toaster oven, and the senior couple, the Schollenbergers, who live next door have an oven.
Oops, I don't know if it's a toaster oven, exactly, but I've never seen one like it before.  It has one rack in it, and it's portable, so it could be moved from room to room.  It would probably work for cooking things, if I knew how to use it, and if it's not broken.  I've never tried it before, but other Elders sometimes cook hashbrowns in it.  It makes a half-crunchy, half-soggy breakfast. :)   

Dad: Reminiscent of jell-o crisps and granola jerky?

Brennan: ooh... no please.
I'm sure those recipes could be easily cooked to completion in the oven I have. 

Mom: Just wondering if you want no-bake treat ideas to take to the members -- a way to get in the door and show you care about them.  I'll have to think about what to send you, if you have no oven.  Fudge is always good, and I'll think about other treats.  Look for recipes next week :)

Brennan: Fudge is good, but here, really expensive for the chocolate and condensed milk.  Vanilla and almond extract are really cheap.  Also, I have no glassware, and no small pots.  I have two large skillets and one huge noodles-pot.
Oh, I just realized, I never cook rice.  We don't even have any in our house.  I've never seen a wok since I practiced frying rice for the family back home.

[If any of you reading this have great no-bake treat ideas, leave a comment and/or send the recipe to him.]

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Johor Bahru - first impressions

Hi Family!
I've really been looking forward to this email time this week.  I mostly just need a few more people to dump my feelings on.  I was kinda down on myself this week, and I wrote down what I was feeling in my journal.  I always feel better when I get to email home, so I don't feel so bad now.

When I take a step back, some of the things that are really weighing on me don't really matter that much (I feel ridiculous complaining about filtering water and not having fans), but lots of little things built up into a load of stress that left me sick yesterday.  I feel bad dumping on you, but I told you I would tell you about the bad times as well as the good.

Journal entry: Sunday, Jan 19, 2014
I really am weighed down. I could begin to list the reasons, but whenever I pinpoint them, they seem really stupid, like things that people would reply to with “just get over it, already!”  I feel really dumb, making these complaints to God, and I try really hard to work through them, but ignoring them is hard.
About the place and the people
Little factors build up into an overarching and inescapable state of constant discomfort:
- We must filter all water.
- The house doesn’t have fans to help dry me off.
- Being naturally colder than everyone else, I freeze at night.
- People here are mostly Muslim, which means I’m encouraged to not even start a conversation with them.
- It’s hard to find people who will speak Mandarin with me.
- It’s always hot and muggy outside, and the city is filthy.
- It’s dangerous going anywhere outside.  Johor Bahru is known for an extra-high crime rate – I’ve almost been robbed.  Also, my big, strong native companion is afraid, as I am.  We’ve both nearly been hit my Malaysian drivers on the road.
- The branch here is tiny, with almost no activity, and the president isn’t interested in getting to know the members or missionaries.
- People here are very poor, but most aren’t willing to accept the gospel.
I’m really trying not to dwell on only the negative things, but it’s really hard for me to find good, positive things.  I feel like I’m praying more than ever, making sacrifices for my investigators and companions, and wearing myself out doing the very best I possibly can in every task of the day, and it’s not good enough.

I believe firmly that obedience brings blessings, and I feel like doing anything that’s not “missionary work,” for example, taking a little time out of the day to relax isn’t obedient, or isn’t showing God that I’m serving Him with all my strength.

Are my standards too high?  Are my sights set too far in the distance?  How am I to cheerfully represent the Lord when silly little things about me are constantly brought to my attention, and it takes focus and physical strain to even stand straight with any confidence?  My focus in scripture study has been on Ether 12 and Doctrine and Covenants 121-123 this week.  I don’t want to drown in self-pity, but my heart aches.

[About my companion:]  I like him.  He's a fantastic teacher, very street-wise, and loving.  He doesn't mince words, and he speaks his feelings.  I think there were a few things mentioned in passing, and probably meant in good humor, which I took to heart in a negative way.  This has been the case with all of my companions so far, though.  I just feel especially self-conscious around all of them.  There are a few things that I assumed of myself, but were just never said to my face before the mission.  I feel like I should be able to be confident in all situations, but many, many times, I just don't know what to do. 
Elder Loke has asked me if I don't like him, or if I hate living with the Elders in our house.  He noticed that I don't talk in the mornings or at night.  I realized that I seemed really anti-social because I was trying to finish everything I have to do in the morning so that I could make it to studies on time, and if I was early, I didn't lounge with them, but I dove right into my study.  I have discovered a love for reading the Book of Mormon in Chinese (probably because it's one thing I can actually see real, daily improvement in) and I hadn't realized that it might seem unfriendly to want to use my little spare time to read something I look forward to all day.

I think that these are things about myself that I used to not care about so much, but when they were brought up as potential weaknesses, I felt like I couldn't tolerate them as someone who was called to represent Jesus Christ.  I feel a lot of pressure to become more Christlike, which would mean ridding myself of imperfections.  I think these are not new developments in actuality, but only in my mind.  I probably need to adjust my focus from self to others, and choose not to be humble, but not plagued by my weaknesses.

I know I'm not the only one.  I was thinking a lot about how many other missionaries feel, and especially about how the Savior felt, rejected by his own people.  I know I can't comprehend that kind of suffering and rejection, and that my own trials are puny in comparison, and really rather silly.  I can rationally think through problems and trials, and I can remember blessings, but it's still just hard to pull myself up out of an emotionally low day.  Thanks for your support.  I do kind of feel like an irrational crybaby when I complain about things, but I'm glad you'll still listen to me! :)

Thanks!  I love you all!