Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jungle excursions and thoughts on prayer

Hello Everybody!

Where to begin about this week?  Well, maybe I’ll just list off a few cool things that happened:

1.  Last night I was riding my bike down a dark road when I suddenly had to duck my head and swerve to the side to avoid getting hit in the face by a giant “Mothra,” bigger than my hand! It was the kind with big wings colored on one side and brown on the other, and with “tails” on the bottoms of its wings.  I thought it was cool, anyway.

2.  Elder Broadhead and I took an expedition “over the river and through the woods” this week.  There was not a lot of missionary work for us to do there, because not many Chinese people lived in that area of the jungle, but you can see a few pictures of the houses along the river, and in the rainforest.

3.  I got to go on exchanges with Elder Hobbs [whose mission language is Malay].  It was very refreshing to work with the investigators in his area.  One that we visited lived in the more ghetto part of Sibu.  It was an adventure getting to his house, but it felt so good to meet with someone so willing to accept help from us and so willing to come to Christ and repent.  Our last appointment that day required another bike ride out into the jungle.  We met a large family in a humble home.  We sat on the bare concrete floor, our lesson illuminated by only a single fluorescent bulb, but I’ve never met people so ready to learn from the Book of Mormon.  They each had their scriptures and a highlighter waiting for us when we arrived.  Being a Chinese-speaking Elder in Malaysia is like being in a completely different mission from the Malay Elders and Sisters! 

4.  A member who’s rapidly becoming my close friend drew a portrait of me, as is his tradition with all the Sibu missionaries. 

5.  I met with the branch and district Family History consultants to learn how to get started myself, and to help members get started on genealogy.  It’s going to be a process, and virtually none of the members here have means enough to travel to the Philippines or Hong Kong to perform temple ordinances for their ancestors, but there are so many blessings promised us about family history that I believe it’s going to be a worthwhile endeavor.

This week, I read over the letters I received from Mom and Dad while I was at Aaronic Priesthood in Action camp for the last three summers.  I felt so uplifted and comforted as I read these inspired words.  I felt that they were actually written for me in this time of many questions, not just as friendly words as a part of an annual summer activity.  Thank you, Mom and Dad, for expressing your love and confidence in me, as well as sharing with me your own missionary experiences, challenges, and advice.  Thank you always for your outstanding examples to me.  I hope that the Lord can mold me into someone as good as you both are, when I’m a parent and husband.

As I pondered my relationship with my Heavenly Father this week, I evaluated my attitude and the words I use in prayer.  I know I need to pray with real intent and with all the energy of heart.  The picture that always comes to my mind along with these exhortations is that of me praying until my heart just gives out and I drop dead next to my study table.  I don’t feel like that’s the best option, nor is it what the Lord actually wants me to do.  I’m trying to use real intent by stopping whenever I notice myself using vain repetitions.  I just stop and then instead of asking or thanking for things I say every day (even though I feel sincere doing it), I just tell my Father what I’m feeling and how my day went.  I know he already knows, but as I speak with Him about it, I can feel subtle answers to my questions, that come as I ask.  I ask for wisdom and the capacity to act on it in a way that will help me develop a better relationship with my companion, investigators, members, and with Jesus Christ.  I don’t ever feel an immediate boost in strength or wisdom, and I sometimes wonder if I’m just asking for more trials.  I just tell Heavenly Father that I plan to just keep on keeping on, and to try my best to follow the Spirit.  I hope He’ll forgive me when I can’t see clearly and I make a poor choice, but I know He loves me and wants me to succeed.  I take a lot of comfort from this.

I know He loves all of you as well, and He can speak to you as you seek Him in quiet moments.

I love you all so much!

Wow, I never have time to respond to everything you all send me, but please know that I read it all, and I love it all, especially the little details about what happens during the week.
I also really value all the experiences you share with me, and the advice and encouragement you give me on a weekly basis.  It really lifts me up!
Thanks and Love,

Photos:  look out, there are a lot today! 
Elder Broadhead fighting an intense battle in a game of table tennis. 

Elder Broadhead waiting for 40 minutes at a bus stop near our house.

The Sky and Clouds over Sibu.  Pretty cool - at least, I never saw clouds and sky like this at home.   

Late afternoon over the river to the west of the city.  We crossed here to go into the jungle.

A couple pictures of the forest and people living and farming there.

one bridge... 

...and another one.  Which bridge would you choose to cross? 

Elder Broadhead:  "...don't mess with a missionary man..." 

The view of houses along the river from the ferry which took us across.  See if you can zoom in and take a better look at the city. 

Exchanges with Elder Hobbs! 

This is a back street in the more run-down area of town. 

Study room and sweater - the Aircon unit gets this room pretty cold!  Elder Broadhead doesn't seem to mind, but I had to get a study sweater. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Merry Easter!

Dear Family,

Merry Easter, everyone!  Personally, I've never been more easter than here in Sibu.  Okay, when you stop rolling on the floor in hysterics at my punny joke (or when the cricket's stop chirping) I'll tell you a little more about my Sojourn in Sarawak.

It's been...different.  I like the small-town country feeling that I get in this place.  Actually, Sibu is a pretty populated area, I guess, but it's definitely not as urban as Johor Bahru.  So, for the Malay-speaking Elders, missionary work is taking off!  The Sibu Zone now leads the mission in baptisms and new investigators!  It's still kind of hard to get things off the ground for us as Chinese Elders, though.  It's a process, and it still takes a lot of calling and some boring hours of menial work, but I have faith that the Lord is preparing someone that we can meet and make real progress with.

Well, now for what I learned this week:  Following the Spirit every day is HARD!  I try as hard as I can to see through the nets of confusion and doubt Satan is always throwing at me, trying to bind me down.  I'm also learning how answers to prayers come - very subtly, for me at least.  There were many times each day where I had a choice or a judgment to make, about what was Heavenly Father's truth and what was the opinions of the world.  Sometimes, I wasn't sure if I'd made the right choice, and I'm still not entirely convinced.  There were times when I didn't know if what I was doing actually was right or if I had been wasting my efforts at the expense of others' opinions of me.  It's been a struggle, and I've had to stand alone at some times, in order to keep doing what I felt was right.  I was looking very hard for a confirmation that I am still doing what's right in God's sight and that my efforts are accepted of Him.  I found my answers in scriptures this week.  I can't describe exactly how the feeling came, and it still was not strong, but it was a stillness and an assurance in quiet moments as I read verses of scripture which promise Heaven's help and rewards to the faithful. 

As lately I read Preach My Gospel, I've been wondering, "How strong is my faith?  Do I really have faith, or is it some other feeling or conviction that I've associated with the word 'faith' for most of my life?"  I especially like the line in PMG that says, “When you have vaith in Jesus Christ, you trust the Lord enough to follow His commandments – even when you do not completely understand the reasons for them.”

I also read under "Hope:" “Hope is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you.  It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance.  It is believing and expecting that something will occur. When you have hope, you work through trials and difficulties with the confidence and assurance that all things will work together for your good.  Hope helps you conquer discouragement.”

And because I'm trying to develop charity most of all, under that heading I drew special strength from this passage:  “When you are filled with charity, you obey God’s commandments and do all you can to serve others and help them receive the restored gospel. . . . .  You will avoid judging others, criticizing them, or saying negative things about them.  You will try to understand them and their points of view.  You will be patient with them and try to help them when they are struggling or discouraged.  Charity, like faith, leads to action.  You will develop charity as you look for opportunities to serve others and give of yourself.”

I'm really grateful to hear what you all have been studying out of "Preach My Gospel" as well.  I know that it is inspired counsel, and that we will be protected, blessed, and strengthened to meet our challenges when we follow it.  Coupled with the counsel I find inside that manual, I also draw a lot of patience to face my daily trials from asking myself this question:  "What does God want me to learn from this challenge?"  I find it so much easier to step back and keep an eternal perspective when I ask this question to myself and my Heavenly Father.  I feel an assurance that He is over all things and loves me, and will always stand by me.  I hope that we will all remember to keep an eternal perspective – to know that all trials are for our benefit and learning.
As Sister Wilson, (wife of Larry Y. Wilson) said at my 2nd zone conference, speaking about the Lord as a silversmith and refining his silver in a fiery furnace:  "When it hurts, when you feel you can't go on, don't shortchange the process."

Man...  I can't seem to find anywhere to end this, so I'll just say I love you all so much!  It's always great to email you - thanks for always staying up late to talk!


Here is my plane with the jungle and the storm in the background.

Here are some real skulls hanging from the ceiling of some headhunters' longhouse that I visited one day.

Missionaries fixing bikes.  It's a daily thing.

My planner - almost destroyed in the heavy rain.

I'm stuck to the tape on the wall, just like this chichak [house gecko]

Sibu's city center with park for playing soccer at Zone Activity.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Greetings from Borneo!

Dear Family and Everybody,

Sibu is more Jungle-y than Johor is, but it's not too dissimilar, from what I can tell.  At least, it didn't feel like moving into a completely foreign world, like it did going from Provo to Singapore or Singapore to JB.  Sibu is right on the edge of the Jungle, however, so I have yet to see the "wild" side of the city.  If I cross the river that runs along the west side of Sibu, I'll be in the rain forest.  I'll let you know what it's like as soon as I go there, probably this week sometime.

I took a taxi from Johor Bahru to Singapore, across the border and through the immigration checkpoint.  I went to the Singapore Changi Airport (voted best airport in the world) the next day, which was a fun adventure.  Sadly, Singapore's longest slide was closed for the day and I couldn't find the butterfly garden, so I have no cool pictures from that day.  I flew from Singapore to Kuching, the "capital" of East Malaysia, then on to Sibu.  That's when things started to turn into a real adventure story.  During my 1.5-hour layover in Kuching, I saw huge dark clouds begin to gather on the eastern horizon, then move across the whole sky.  I boarded a small plane (the kind with propellers on the wings) in the pouring rain, and flew through a lightning storm into the depths of Borneo!  I felt like Indiana Jones, Tintin, or some other action-hero-explorer!

Once in Sibu, I got settled into the new house, which is kind of old, but definitely livable.  It's two stories tall, and accommodates six Elders currently.  Elder Hobbs is in my house!  We were in AP Biology together only a year ago, and now we're living in East Malaysia as missionaries together.  Cool!  My companion is Elder Broadhead, who's really funny and great at talking to people, especially kids.  He is my "brother," because he was also trained by my "father," Elder Black!  Elder Broadhead goes home in 3 months, so this won't be an especially long-term companionship, but it may be the longest I've had yet.

I'm very far away from the mission office now, so I will only receive posted mail once every 3 months, when I fly back to Singapore for Zone Conferences.  I feel a little bit isolated here, but I think it's mostly because I haven't been here very long and I'm not fully adjusted.  I have already had a couple of bike rides in the dark and through the rain, and I still don't know very many of the members or investigators here.  Only a handful came to General Conference.  That reminds me, one thing that I'm definitely ready to adjust to is the chapel here.  It's gorgeous!  It is actually a building of itself, with a steeple, a chapel, a cultural hall, beautiful tile and chairs, air conditioning and many classrooms on both floors!  There are actually three branches that meet there, apparently, including two Malay/Iban-speaking branches and one Chinese-speaking branch.  Wow!  I hope that the church is thriving here as much as my first impression tells me!