Monday, August 4, 2014

This Really Is a Privilege

Wow, y’alls pictures from Florida are so cool! Some of y’alls pictures look like they're professional quality! The water looked beautiful this year! Y’all are so lucky!. I was scared the water was going to be gross for y'all but I'm super glad it cleared up. Was that the nicest you've ever seen the water there? Man, all those activities are so great. I read a talk this week; I think it was by Elder Perry, on the importance of having family traditions. I'm so glad that we have a ton of traditions in our family! I'm excited to go to Florida with y’all when I get back! It'll be kind of weird and different though you know, but I guess we have two years to decide whether we'll get two houses or just have Maddie and her husband sleep in the living room (haha). Sorry to hear about your bike crash mom. Hope you're not bruised too bad! Y’alls bikes look like they could be my bikes great-great-grandbabies. So nice and shiny and new!

That’s cool that y’all were covering Elijah and Elisha in Sunday School, because that’s exactly what we covered here in Cambodia! Cool how the Church is so organized and together. Even though we're tens of thousands of miles apart, the members still learn the same exact things! I wasn't there for the actual lesson though, because we are in the gospel essentials class, but Elder Johnson and I helped the gospel doctrine teacher prepare the lesson on Saturday. All the people in callings are new for the most part, so the missionaries have to give a lot of assistance.

This week flew by! It went exactly opposite of last week. I think it's because I'm adjusting a lot better now, and the culture shock has worn off (although not entirely). I love Cambodia so much! It blows my mind every time we stop for even a second, and I look around and I just think "How in the world did I get here?"  My life feels like a dream. I can't remember my life beforehand and it's hard for me to even remember the MTC and stuff like that. As far as I know, I just floated through life and now I'm here. Haha, it’s the craziest feeling. I seriously can't describe it. Take the word "surreal" multiply it by a thousand and then imagine that your whole existence was immersed in this new, stronger form of surrealness. That’s as close as I can get to describing how I feel here in Cambodia. I don't remember how I got here, or where I learned to speak this language, but I'll find myself in the middle of a lesson, sitting on the floor of some shack, or talking to a guy on the side of the road sitting on his moto, and I'll just stop for a split second and be like, “how am I doing this?” I've been learning this language for 2 months and now I'm having conversations in this language with every person I see? How could I ever deny the Savior or Heavenly Father or their infinite divine power? How are they not real? And that’s only one miracle that’s occurred to me. I have scores more I could share, scores more of tender mercies the Lord has granted to me. This life is so beautiful.

I love our investigators so much. One of them is Lookpuu Mongkol. He's the nicest, jolliest guy you've ever met. When his pastor at the church he used to belong to found out that Puu Mongkol had been reading out of the Book of Mormon, he took away all of Puu Mongkols bibles! But Puu Mongkol was just like, that’s fine, I'll get another bible someday, but I'm going to keep learning with these Mormons. He knows that what we teach is true. It's amazing as we teach him how much he just eats it up. He knows that the things we discuss are eternal truths! He recognizes their truthfulness through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Our member help for Puu Mongkol is Lookpuu Oun, who is a recent convert himself. Puu Oun doesn't have any money (neither does Puu Mongkol, nor any of our investigators actually) and he's just barely scraping by, giving people rides on the back of his moto (they call those guys "motodopes"), but he still comes with us every time we teach Puu Mongkol. It’s so cool, they both just take out a pad of paper and a pen, and takes notes as we discuss with them. The first time they did it I was kind of like “wait what??”, but I love it. They really want to remember these principles and apply them. The Spirit testifies to all of our souls so strongly as we sit there together.

Speaking of sitting, my legs fall asleep every single lesson we teach. Everyone sits cross legged here (I don't know if I ever told you). And when you sit there on dirt or rotten wood or a concrete slab for an hour without moving your legs, I promise you that it does not feel good. It’s not like it’s a pleasant, "Oh my! My legs fell asleep again – haha!” It’s more like "Ok, this time surely I have a blood clot. There’s no way my legs can endure any more pain than this." It’s rough. And then I stand up and have to lean on Elder Johnson because I can't feel my lower body at all. Our investigators get a big laugh out of the big (yes I'm big here. Some members have even referred to me as "tall elder") bawrang limping around after lessons. Hopefully my legs will get used to sitting like that eventually!

One of our investigators, Bong Niro, was going to be baptized this next Sunday, but me and Elder Johnson have decided to move her baptism day back a week because she was super sick and had to go to the hospital yesterday and so couldn't come to church. We're praying for her, I hope she gets better soon!

Oh by the way, I don't know if y’all know, but our mission schedule is different than everywhere else in the world! We wake up at 5:30 and go to bed at 9:30. That’s just to keep with the culture. Most Khmaes wake up around 3, 4, or 5 every morning and go to bed around 8, 9, or 10. In order for us to meet as many people as possible our schedule gets moved back a bit. So every time y’all are sitting down to dinner in Texas, I'm just waking up!

Another fun fact, when you want to pay at a restaurant you tell the waiter passing to "think money".

Let me answer y'alls questions:
Have you received any of our letters or postcards in the mail?  I haven't gotten any of y’alls mail yet. We pick it up at the mission home, which we ride our bikes to every pday. If you want to know how far that is, pull up a map of Phnom Penh, look at the airport, then draw a line directly east until you hit the Mekong. We literally bike across the entire city! It takes about an hour. Its super fun though! Last pday we took a slightly different route there because we stopped at this one restaurant for lunch and we ended up going along this road which has all the enormous government buildings! Look them up, they're huge!! The part of town that the mission home is in has all the government buildings and universities and stuff. It’s really nice (well you know, relatively).

How are you doing with the rats?  I'm doing ok with the rats. They still give me the heebie-jeebies but I'm not completely paralyzed with fear from them (if I was than I wouldn't get anything done here). I think I'd be doing a lot worse if we had rats in our house, but thankfully our house is pretty rat free. Thank heavens

When you eat in your apartment, what do you eat?  We cook Cambodian food when we cook in. It’s just easier. We make different chaas (like stir-fry) and stuff like that. For breakfast I just eat cereal though. And I usually just eat cereal for dinner too. We're way too tired at 9 in the evening to make anything. The only meal break me and Elder Johnson take is lunch. We don't really take turns cooking, haha. Elder Johnson is like the head chef and I do whatever he tells me to help him out. To make up for him making most of our food I try and do all of the dishes.

Did you feel the earthquake they had this past week in Southwest China?  No, I didn't feel the earthquake. Didn't even know about it till I read y’alls emails.

What do you do when it rains?  When it rains we get wet. haha it’s weird though, the Khmaes are like terrified of the rain! You'd think they’d be totally inviting of it, having lived amongst it for thousands of years, but they all seek shelter or take out ponchos when it starts to even drizzle! Elder Johnson said that they think the rain makes them sick. They think rain and wind are the two main sources of sickness. Whatever, who am I to tell them that I don't think that's accurate? Haha, maybe they're right.

How is the language coming?  Do people understand you?  The language is coming. I make big strides in comprehension every week, although most days I go home with my head spinning. Have I told y’all that a ton of people don't say their “R's” in Phnom Penh? They kind of just put this like up-tone sort of thing where an r would be (I don't know how to describe the sound, sorry). So pram becomes pam, jruuk becomes chuuk, jraun becomes chun, and so on and so forth. Fun stuff. Great learning experience. Reading is still something I have to work at. You don’t start reading automatically, that’s for sure. Sometimes when I'm reading I honestly feel like I’m not reading a translated copy of the Book of Mormon at all. I feel like it’s just a transcription of the characters from straight off the plates.  Yes, people can understand me. They correct me on pronunciation a lot, but they can still usually understand everything I say.

What do you do on pdays? On pdays we do a lot. Today we're going to go play soccer with some of the elders in our zone. Next week I think Elder Johnson and I are planning on going to Tuol Sleng Prison Memorial. [Editors note:  Tuol Sleng was one of the most notorious prison’s of the Khmer Rouge genocide. The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. Tuol Sleng means "Hill of the Poisonous Trees" or "Strychnine Hill". Tuol Sleng was only one of at least 150 execution centers in the country, and as many as 20,000 prisoners there were later killed. A lot of missionaries go to wats, or nap, or play sports, or go to Killing Field memorials, or hang out at the mission home. I don't know, you can do whatever you want really

Do you have a washing machine in your apartment? Yup, we have a washer outside our house. We hang dry all our clothes in the kitchen.

I've experienced more personal adversity these last few weeks than seemingly in my entire previous life combined. I've always heard that missions are really hard, and I knew it would be hard, I just don't think I ever did (or could) imagine the magnitude of the difficulties of being a young missionary. I've learned so much about myself though.

The words of the apostles are always very comforting to me. Let me share a story from David O. McKay about the Martin Handcart company."Many years after this tragic event in which so many Mormon pioneers died, a teacher and some members in a Church class criticized the leadership of the Church for permitting that tragedy to occur. A man who had crossed the plains in the Martin Handcart Company was present in the class. Face white with emotion, he told the class they should not criticize something they knew nothing about. 'We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation', he admitted, but he reminded them that the survivors of that company had not been critical. 'Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church,' the old man said, 'because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with Him in our extremities.' He told how he had pulled his handcart 'when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other.' Then, he said, 'the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.' 'Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart?' he continued. 'No... The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.' 

Please don't think that I am at all relating the trials of a young missionary in Cambodia to that of the Mormon pioneers. Their trials are above all comprehension and I will never be able to understand the magnitude of their sacrifice and devotion. But for me personally, I am in the strongest tempest I have ever been in. I have never felt more stress, more heat, more exhaustion, and more emotional duress. I think I could truly call this experience of mine right now a "refiner's fire". Pochentong is said to be one of the toughest areas in the whole mission and I am being born here! I never thought I would be tested this strongly on my mission. But I think the Lord does this for us all. I think we all at one point or another have to pass through a refiner’s fire, an experience full of incredible sadness, agony, pain, frustration, or faith-trying obstacles. But through our pain, frustration, and anguish, we are purified. Everything "dross" inside of us is burned away as we are pushed to our knees and have to rely on the Savior and the enabling power of His Atonement to pick us up. I think anyone who endures these trials well, having that "perfect brightness of hope" talked about in the scriptures, relying on the merits of Christ will say, "I am not sorry that Christ gave me these trials. The price I paid to become acquainted with my God was a privilege to pay."

In his talk "Adversity" Elder Oaks referenced the hymn 'Zion Stands With Hills Surrounded'. The third verse of that hymn says "In the furnace God may prove thee, Thence to bring thee forth more bright, but can never cease to love thee; thou art precious in his sight. God is with thee, God is with thee, thou shalt triumph in his might." Elder Oaks then quoted Isaiah: "Behold, I have refined thee...; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction". In his talk "Terror, Triumph, and a Wedding Feast" Elder Holland refers to several verses in Doctrine and Covenants: "Fear not, little flock... Look to Christ in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath prepared for you. Be of good cheer. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours."

This mission is not a sacrifice. I am not sacrificing anything to be out here. In my opinion, sacrifice means you're giving something up of near equal value. Out here I'm not giving up anything near the value of what I'm attaining! I have the privilege of being involved in the work of salvation and eternal life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What greater thing could I be doing at this point in my life?! I know that as we offer our whole selves up to God, He will take us to infinitely great heights. Elder Corbridge of the Seventy put it like this: "In the end, your heart and your will is all that you have to give that the Lord does not already have. If you give your time, two years, and your strength, you give only that which He grants to you with each beat of your heart and each breath you draw. If you dedicate your gifts and talents, you only return to Him what He has already given to you. If you pay tithing, you only return to Him a tenth of what he has already given to you. Everything that you have to give to the Lord has its origin in Him, except one thing: your will. He does not have your heart, nor your mind, unless you give them to Him. It is the only gift you have to offer that He does not already have. And so when you give yourself, you truly give everything to Him."

I love my Heavenly Father so much, and I am so grateful for everything He has given me, including my trials. I bear my testimony to all of y’all that we have a living loving Heavenly Father which is perfectly aware of each one of us, even as we are immersed in the trials which he has decided to give to us. I am so grateful for His love and for the love of my savior, Jesus Christ. I know that the Atonement is real. I know that the power of prayer is real because I can feel y’alls prayers for me every waking second of every day. Thank you so much for those. I love y’all and I say all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Neuberger

Elder Johnson crossing a "bridge" over a sewage river
Houses in our area
Areas we frequent
More of Pochentong
Selfie of me and Elder Johnson 
Selfie of Elder Johnson with me in the background
Rice fields at sunset

Brawthean Lom Ong's baby.  So cute!
Chaa Mnoah.  Stirfried pineapple, pork, and peppers (and of course a big bowl of rice) 
This is what Cambodian money looks like.  Don't get too excited.  1000 riel is equal to a quarter.  The way the money system works here is that they use both US dollars and riel.  The riel is used like change (they don't have coins).  Its a really good system.  I like it a lot.
Hahaha.  Ummm . . . yeah, sometimes exceptions have to be mede to the rulebook.

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