Monday, September 29, 2014

Pchum Ben is over!!!

Kids of some families we visit with each week
Yes, Pchum Ben is over!! Finally! The long exodus is over and people have returned to Phnom Penh! We have people to teach! This past week though was still Pchum Ben. So it was still super hard to find people to teach and to contact. But I'm hopeful for this next week though! Pchum Ben ended this weekend. It's no longer just us and the hordes of rats and armies of stray dogs!

So this last week we had zone conference! It was amazing, such a great way to be spiritually uplifted and renewed. We (the North Zone) had it combined with the Central Zone, which is the official name for the Vietnamese program. It was funny because our zone conference happened in 3 languages! Everyone would just speak in their native language, and then we had translators interpreting the whole time. Its very cool to participate in a part of the Lord's vineyard that is so diverse!

So at zone conference, first thing after the opening song and prayer, President Moon gets up and says "I have a very special announcement. I just got the final clearances and permissions last night so I feel comfortable announcing it now. You all are the first people to hear about this. I'm very excited to say that this next transfer we will be opening the provinces of Pursat and Prey Veng!" 

We were all like WHATTTTTTTTTT?!!!!!!!!! Talk about getting your mind blown... We were all speechless. There has been rumors going around for a while that a new khaet would probably be opened some time in the near future, but no one knew that it would be this transfer, and no one knew that it would be not just one khaet, but two! And no one even discussed it ever being Pursat and Prey Veng! We all thought it would be Takeo, like for sure. And if not Takeo, than possibly Kompung Chnang. Interesting how the Lord rolls His work forth. It's a very good thing that He does it according to His knowledge and not ours! So yeah! Starting this next transfer the Church will be in the provinces of Battombang, Siam Riap, Kompung Thom, Kompung Cham, Prey Veng, and Pursat! I can't wait till the church extends to every part of Cambodia! Who knows, maybe one day one of my children will serve in the Cambodia Pochentong Mission! Or maybe one day I'll be able to come back and go through the Pochentong temple! One step at a time though...

The North and Central Zones Conference, September 2014

This week we ate with President Lom Ang (a counselor in the stake presidency) and his family at the church a couple of times. There was nothing better to do at all, we had no one to teach and there is no one on the streets to contact, so we were like sure! It was a great time getting to know President Lom Ang and his family better. They are the greatest. So faithful. They're so young too! President and his wife Marida are both like 30.

Making fried bananas at the church during Pchum Ben.  We were hanging out with Brawthian Lom Ang and his family. 

Sister Uresk and Sister Hartley

Quick side note: I am so grateful that emails do not carry scent, because this one would smell so sweaty. I'm sweating all over the place in this email cafe right now. That's all. Continue...

So also this week, on Saturday morning, which would have been the same time y’all were playing games with each other I think, I went to Kompung Spuu! Bishop lives out there! For all of y’all who are completely ignorant of Cambodian political geography, which is probably just one or two of you, Kompung Spuu is the khaet directly to the west of Phnom Penh (our area's boundary technically goes west all the way to the ocean). So Bishop picked us up from the church at 8:30 on Saturday morning and we drove like an hour and fifteen minutes out to his house. He raises chickens for a living, so we helped clean out his coops for a few hours. It was super fun. Kompung Spuu is super pretty, like all the provinces are. It was nice to leave the city for a few hours. And Kompung Spuu has some mountains too! I didn't realize that before. I thought you had to go further west than that to find the mountains. It was super duper fun. I love Cambodia. It is the prettiest place in the world. I don't remember who was telling me, but before the Vietnam War and Pol Pot and the genocide, the other countries of Indochina (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, etc.) were talking about turning Cambodia into a huge nature preserve because it is so beautiful. Unfortunately, Cambodia has lost a lot of its beauty because of war and deforestation but for the most part it is still unbelievably beautiful!

A cow on the bishop's farm 

The chicken coop

Me inside the chicken coop.  I'm wearing the traditional Khmae scarf, the krama, on my head.
The bishop sleeping after a hard day on the farm.

Pictures and words cannot describe the shades of green in Cambodia. Imagine the brightest, most vibrant green color you can imagine, square it, than multiply it by 100 and that is the shade of green that Cambodia is. It also is just the most surreal feeling when I look out at rice fields as far as the eye can see, and you just see farmers out there with there traditional harvesting tools, and in their traditional Khmae farmer clothing, with the kramas and all that. Its like stepping back in time 3000 years. All of Cambodia could be a Smithsonian history exhibit, but instead of wax figures, its real people! These farmers are seriously such an anachronism in today’s world. Sorry to use a weird word like anachronism, but that’s the best word to describe what it's like watching them, as the haunting, lilting voice of a monk chanting in Pali floats through the air, coming from the countryside wat over in the distance. You are just like "there is no way I am living in the year 2014. I have been sucked several millennia back in time." Gosh, so many unreal sights in Cambodia which are impossible to describe. This is why email time on p-days is the most frustrating time of the week...

Pictures of Kompung Spuu 

Yesterday at church we had the worst church attendance since I came here because it started pouring like an hour before church started and rained for the entire duration of church as well. Have I told y’all how Cambodian's refuse to do anything if it's raining? They think that it will make them sick. So yeah needless to say, only the super duper active people came.

Let me answer your questions from the last couple weeks. Sorry I forgot last week, I walked out of the internet cafe and slapped myself on the head because I realized that I had forgotten:

Bug bites?  Do you get a lot of them?  With the rain I assume the mosquitos are out in full force. Tons of mosquitos and other bugs, but I haven't really been bit at all. But that's how I have always been. Even when other people at tennis tournaments and stuff would be eaten alive I wouldn't even have a single bite. I guess I have really sour blood or something. Maybe I just smell too terrible...

Do you do things with the Young Men in your ward?  Do they go on exchanges?  We've done a couple of splits with the young men in our ward yes.

What do you do for English class?  Is it just you and Elder Johnson?  How many people attend? For English class Sister Hartley is the assigned English class leader for Pochentong. She always asks either me or Sister Uresk to teach the class (trainee hazing). The way the class works is we have a lesson (taken from the standardized mission English class curriculum) for an hour than we share a gospel thought in English (with translation) for half an hour. So we have it from 6-7:30 every Wednesday night.

Holding signs for English class.  We get a ridiculous amount of contacts from doing this.  So many people come up and are like "English? Free? Where? When?", and then we speak with them about Jesus Christ and lots of them want to learn.
This street is about 2 minutes from the church building.  It is a nicer street in Pochentong.

Have you had an interview with Pres Moon since the one you had when first arrived?  Yes I had a quarterly interview with President Moon about 4 or 5 weeks after I got here. He is the greatest mission president of all time. His name is said with so much reverence by missionaries and members alike.

Have you gone to Swenson's or the other American type places on pdays?
Yeah I've gone to Swenson's a few times! It's really good! On p-days we go and eat American food pretty often. There are two places, Mama's and USA Donut, which all the missionaries frequent. They would probably make zero money in the U.S., but here there isn't a ton of options so we go and it tastes good to us so we don't complain!

Contacting on the streets of Pochentong
Have you seen anyone play or have you tried to play sepak takraw?  Nope, haven't seen anyone playing sepak takraw yet. Volleyball and soccer are the two sports everybody plays here. That and you see everybody playing with this Cambodian hacky sack thing. They call it a "sei"

Next Sunday do you find out about transfers?  Is this the last week with you and Elder Johnson?  First transfers are tough because you bond with your trainer is so special.  Yup, next Sunday we get transfer calls! This transfer is going to be CRAZY. We have 30 new missionaries coming in, 2 new khaets being opened, plus last transfer not a whole lot of people were transferred so EVERYONE for the most part is getting transferred this transfer. It’s going to be insane. Elder Johnson and I still have 2 weeks left together because even though the calls come next Sunday, transfer day isn't till that next Friday. So transfer day is a little less than two weeks away.

Elder Johnson and me in Kompung Spuu

Your bishop looks like he might be a little better off than the average?  He’s pretty well off. He works his tail off for it though. Farming and raising chickens is hard. But yeah, he's very well off for a Cambodian.

Have fun at BYU this next week dad! Have fun at home Chloe, Riley, and Mom! Have fun with midterms Maddie! Have fun with NanEtte at General Conference Nana! Everybody else have fun too, with whatever you're doing! If you're not doing anything, feel free to come and visit the greatest country of all time, the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The Church is true and always will be, for time and for all eternity. If anyone wants to watch some amazing talks this week I encourage yall to watch Elder Holland's "Lord I Believe" and Elder Christofferson's "The Divine Gift of Repentance". Both talks are absolutely incredible. I can't wait for General Conference in a couple of weeks!

Love y’all!

Love Elder Neuberger

Elder Johnson

Cambodia's amazing sky
We made friends with this puppy on the farm

More pictures of the farm
Sisters Uresk and Hartley and Bong Navi cleaning the floor of the chicken coop
Bong Navi and the Bishop on the drive out to the farm
Riding out to the farm

Kompong Spuu rice fields.  It was so beautiful, the pictures don't show the real colors.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Lesson on the Alphabet

She gave us a "high five" after I took this pic

Hi everyone! What a week its been for everyone huh?

Y’alls emails about Papa were very touching. I was sitting here in the email cafe crying uncontrollably. Haha, not the ideal place to read about all the tender mercies that the Lord bestowed upon our family this week, but it was amazing reading about y’alls experiences nonetheless. It's amazing how the Lord comforts us through the little things.

I'm sure many of y’all, like me, have felt your testimonies of the Plan of Salvation increase tenfold this past week! The Holy Ghost has been giving me constant reassurement and peace in my heart, to the extent that I haven't felt any lasting grief. Of course I will miss Papa, but this life is nothing but a blink of an eye! If we all will pattern our lives after the Savior, just like Papa did, then we have the assurance that we will live with our families forever, blessed with eternal and infinite happiness! And not only will we get to live together forever, but we will get to live together forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father! Isn't the Gospel amazing? It is so amazing and awe-inspiring because it is true! I know that it is true and I testify that the blessings of eternity can be ours forever if we will just yield our hearts and will to Christ and follow in His footsteps! How amazing is it to be a missionary! I get to testify to people of that truth EVERY SINGLE DAY! What a blessing! Once we learn for ourselves about the truthfulness of the Gospel, our desire to share it is insatiable! I feel just like the sons of Mosiah, who couldn't stand for one of their spirit brothers or sisters here on the earth to not hear about the gospel!

Nothing really interesting this week happened with regard to proselyting. We are right in the middle of Pchum Ben, that ancestor festival I talked about last week, so literally EVERY SINGLE PERSON in Phnom Penh is gone. Phnom Penh is a ghost town. It's so eerie. It almost feels like I'm in a post-apocalyptic movie. Having nobody here makes proselyting super, super hard. Elder Johnson and I taught just 7 lessons this past week. We usually teach around 20. So it's been really tough. We've been looking for a lot of opportunities to do service and stuff like that though. Doing service in Cambodia usually consists of moving piles of brick shards and stuff.

Oh here's a fun story from this week! Elder Johnson, me, Sister Hartley, and Sister Uresk were helping move dirt (although it was mostly rocks and chunks of brick) from the side of the newly built house of a member out to the front of it, because the workers had left like a 4 foot drop from the front door to the ground, so we had to help them build up a ramp. So we were hacking away at these piles with hoes, and during the time we were helping dig and carry this dirt/brick stuff, 3 ENORMOUS black Cambodian rats and a snake all shot out from under the house at separate times. Like we would be hacking away at the piles and right underneath my foot would be a gap between the ground and the foundation of the house and a huge rat would dart out from it. That happened three times, with three separate monster rats. Y’all can literally not comprehend how big they are. Cambodian mice are bigger than American rats, and Cambodian rats are bigger than most American dogs. Whew they sent my heart rate up way high every time they would leap out from under the house! They would jump about as high as my chest in order to get past us into the swamp/pond thing which the house bordered. The snake wasn't that bad. It was under a log we moved, and then it just slithered off. Snakes haven't really ever freaked me out at all. Nor have spiders. Which is good because if I was scared of rats AND snakes AND spiders I would have been sent home for anxiety attacks months ago. 

Since this week doesn't really have any interesting stories for the most part (it was reallyyy dull at times), I decided I should tell yall a little about Khmae! I realized I really haven't told y’all a lot about the language I speak all day every day so here's some neat little tidbits for y’all:

-The Khmae alphabet is the largest alphabet in the world. It is made up of consonants, sub-consonants, vowels, independent vowels and didactic marks. Every consonant has an inherent vowel sound within it, so there are two different types of consonants: those with an inherent "aw" sound, which pretty much sounds like the sound at the beginning of the word "awesome", and then there is consonants with an inherent "o" sound, which pretty much sounds like an English "o", but you say it deeper and more from your throat. So for example here is two letters: "khaw" and "khoo". Both have the same basic sound at the beginning, the "k" sound like in "kangaroo" or "kite", but their inherent vowel sound is different. So out of the 33 consonants, 15 have an inherent "aw" sound, and 18 have an inherent "o" like sound. Following me so far?

-So a sub-consonant, has the same exact function as a consonant, except you use them when a consonant diphthong occurs, which is a fancy way of saying two consonants in a row. In English we have the same thing. Think about the word "break". You have the consonants "b" and "r" right next to each other, which together combine to make the sound "br". That’s a consonant diphthong. So in Khmae when two consonants are in a row you have the first consonant, which uses its main character, and then the second consonant in a series takes its sub-consonant form. The sub-consonant sits either on the bottom, left or right of the first consonant in the diphthong. The main consonant drops its inherent sound and the consonant sounds are combined. So like take the word "preah" which means God. It has the consonant "po" and the sub-consonant "roo". "Po" drops its "o" sound and combines with "roo" ("roo" by the way is like a rolled r, like in Spanish). Combine that with the vowel "ah" which has the form "eah" when used with "oo" consonants, and you get the word "preah". This is without me even going into "weak consonants". Some of the consonants are considered "weak" and their inherent vowel sound changes to match of that of the nearest preceding "strong consonant".

a pic explaining the word "preah"

-This takes us to vowels! Khmae has 20-different vowel symbols. Each symbol has two different sounds, depending on whether the vowel is altering the inherent vowel sound of an "aw" or "oo" consonant. So really there's like 40 something-ish vowel sounds in Khmae, many of which sound almost exactly the same to the untrained ear, but to Khmaes they're completely different and distinguishable. Vowels can go on top, bottom, left, or right of the main consonant, depending on which vowel it is. Every sub-consonant and vowel always goes in a specific spot depending on which sub-consonant or vowel it is. So for instance, the sub-consonant "roo" always goes on the left of the main consonant, and the vowel "ah" (which has the sound "eah" when being used with "oo" consonants) always goes on the right.

Bless their hearts. They try so hard. Sometimes it just doesn't work out though when they try to translate

-I'm not going to go into independent vowels or didactic marks. Like it's not even worth it. Haha I'm not even going to try. Just know that they exist and they're used and that they're annoying and difficult

So yeah that’s a basic outline of the alphabet! I'll email y’all about cool grammar stuff next week and kind of how the basic structure of the language works. Khmae seriously is the coolest language on the face of the planet. I hope the email this week didn't bore all of y’all to death. I love and miss all of y’all! The Plan of Salvation is real, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ both live, the Atonement is infinite, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of God here on the earth. I testify of all this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

Love Elder Neuberger

The District.  Elder Caine's head got chopped off. That's the price he pays for being tall. (from left to right:  me, Elder Johnson, Sister Hartley, Sister Uresk, Elder Caine, Elder Long)

Cambodian sunsets are literally impossible to catch on camera. It is so frustrating trying to get them on picture because the picture never shows what they really look like. I hate looking in my camera afterwards and being like "Ughhhh thats a pretty picture and all but that's nothing what it actually looks like!"

The sky here looks like a painting.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cambodia is seriously just the greatest place ever!

Cute kids in our area

Heyyyyyyyy! Still alive! Woohoo!

This week was super hard. Pochentong is just tough. Not a ton of investigators or recent converts or really anyone to meet with, and even the people we schedule cancel on us or stand us up 90% of the time. It doesn't help that Cambodian cell service is horrible and that all of our investigators lose their phones all the time. Also, there's this huge holiday, Pchum Ben*, coming up so everybody is going back to their srok. So this next week we'll have even less people to teach (because when I say that everyone is going back to srok, I literally mean EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN PHNOM PENH). Apparently it becomes a ghost town during Pchum Ben (which is an ancestor worship holiday if you're wondering). Everyone here worships their ancestors. It’s actually a really great way to contact people. We talk about eternal families and how we respect and reverence our ancestors in the gospel.

I don't remember whether I told you or not but we were contacted by this one guy and he was like yeah I used to be an investigator over in Tuk Thlaa and now I live in Pochentong and I want to learn here. We were like ok great, and we went over to the church to meet him.

Let me give you some background here. Elder McGavin, just like a week prior, had told about this crazy golden investigator that he had taught, and that Elder Martinson and Elder Vore had taught previously (I think that is who taught him). Anyways he got all the way to the war chapters in Alma in like just 2 weeks, which is INSANE for a Cambodian, mostly because most people can't read very fast (if they can read at all) and the Cambodian edition of the Book of Mormon is also a lot longer than the English edition, mainly because Cambodian is such a descriptive language. But then he snapped after that. Went totally bonkers. He was arrested and put into an insane asylum. Then he got out and went and learned with Elder McGavin. I guess he would come to English class and be really disruptive and he would be really disruptive in sacrament meeting and stuff too, so one day after English class Elder McGavin was like "hey thanks for coming, but we can't let you come back to learn with us anymore. You're disrupting the learning and the Spirit." Then this guy got super mad and sad he was going to shoot Elder McGavin and stuff and then tried to follow him and his companion home (they lost him along the way).

So back to my story, we're meeting with this guy and he says that his name is Minia, which is the name of the guy. And Elder Johnson recognized him the instant he saw him too. He was like "oh no". He was wayyyy nice and kind. I think he was in-between manic stages or something because he was pretty sane when we were meeting with him. So we give the shortest lesson we can possibly give and then leave and then we talked to Elder McGavin and the zone leaders and our ward mission leader that night and they were all like "absolutely 100% do not teach him whatsoever. You don't know when he'll snap again." So we haven't taught him. That’s my story about the time we taught a guy who had threatened to kill the missionaries. Don't worry though, Elder Johnson and I aren't idiots, we were super cautious the whole time. I'm just telling y’all this story cuz it’s kind of funny.

Another story like that is when we contacted the mugger of one of our investigators. Did I tell you how Bong Maac (the guy who had those family members die in the gas explosion right after meeting with us for the first time) was mugged and they stole his phone? Well one day we were thinking about who we could call to meet and we were like "hey why don't we try and talk to whoever has Maac's phone?" So we called it and someone picked up! We played it real cool, we were like is this Maac and he was like "no this is blah blah". And we were like oh, well do you want to learn about Jesus Christ? And he was like "actually I do." So we were like ok sweet! But then we didn't meet with him because he wouldn't pick up the phone again. I don't think we would have met with him anyway, considering the circumstances and what he had done, but it makes for a good story.

Everything in Cambodia that seemed so crazy just a couple months ago is now just completely normal to me. I don't blink an eye whatsoever. Having two huge dump trucks come up on either side of me and almost squish me as I’m barreling down the road doesn't faze me in the slightest now. I used to dread having to go back out on the road the first couple weeks. I would think "Surely this time I am not going to make it. This one’s it. I've been super, super lucky so far but this time is my last." and now I'm just like bring it on! I seriously hate riding my bike on an open road now. It’s boring. It’s only fun when you can weave through traffic and float like a butterfly and sting like a bee and all that good stuff. Super fun, I love riding my bike in traffic. Have I mentioned how any team of like 10 Cambodian missionaries could win the Tour de France hands down, no questions asked? Like granted, there maybe might be like one or two racing teams in the world that are a tiny wee bit faster on the open road. Same thing with endurance, if we had a Cambodian team in the Tour de France based solely off speed and endurance we'd probably be like tied for first or second place. But what will really set us apart when we do the Tour de France is going to be our agility. Literally I feel like we are all more agile on two wheels then on two feet. Weaving, twisting, stopping on a dime, shaking, baking, no problem whatsoever. Cambodian missionaries are the real deal when it comes to biking. Like I don't mean to boast about us, but it’s just how it is. We're products of our environment. Haha, sorry to go off on a tangent. It’s just way fun seeing everybody zooming through the craziest traffic you've ever seen and not even be phased by it one bit.

Oh I went on an exchange with the zone leader and AP this week! And I was leading my area! I had no idea that Elder Satterthwaite (the AP) was going to be coming with Elder Vore (the zone leader) until we showed up at the stake center to swap comps. Then we saw that the AP's were there and they were like "we're supervising the exchanges today!" Kind of scary, especially because it was my first time leading out the area. So we biked back to Pochentong and had dinner and then went to bed then the next morning we went to work! Elder Sat and Elder Vore got to see what it’s like being a missionary in Pochentong! Every single one of our 4 lessons fell through. Every single one of them stood us up. I was like "welcome to Pochentong". And since we have nobody to call as backups, we literally contacted like all day. At one point we went to the store and got poster making materials which we brought back to the church and we got one of the guards there to make this super cool English class sign in this super cool Khmae font. His calligraphy is unreal. So then we went and took those signs and stood at the corner of this busy intersection and contacted people with those signs for like 2 hours. Contacting with signs is super effective. The people weed themselves out for you! All of the interested ones come up to you and are like "yes I want to learn English! When and where?".  I think we got like 40 solid contacts in those two hours, and a ton wanted to learn about the gospel as well (which is the whole point of contacting them about English class). It was awesome. I learned a ton on that exchange from Elder Sat and Elder Vore. They're both amazing missionaries. Elder Sat is the perfect example of Christ-like leadership and is always super happy and optimistic and loves every part of missionary work. He is seriously always smiling. Elder Vore is super intense and passionate and motivated and has this amazing "go-getter" attitude about missionary work. He's full of great ideas. I learned seriously so much that day. At the end of the day they were both like "Man, like we were both fully aware that Pochentong is tough before we came, but like wow, now we REALLY know. Keep up the good work." Super good guys, I love them to death.

Cambodia is seriously just the greatest place ever. Even the people who are rude to us I love. How could anyone ever judge them? As missionaries we say amongst ourselves all the time, come Judgment Day, all of Cambodia is just going to be saved in its entirety. They have been through soooo much, and they still are wallowing in the deep, deep pit Pol Pot dug. No one can understand what they've been through, not even us missionaries, who speak to hundreds of different Cambodians every week and get to know so many on an intimate spiritual basis. But the Savior understands. Everything will be made right at the last day. Everything will be done according to His plan, I have absolute faith in that.

I love being a missionary so much! I hope each of y’all have a fantastic week and that y’all are making tons of amazing memories! Remember the lyrics to the hymn "Have I Done any Good" that "So wake up and do something more than dream of your mansion above. Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure, a blessing of duty and love."

Keep being anxiously engaged in a good cause! Soom cumriaplia!

*Editors Note:  This is from Wikipedia.  Pchum Ben ("Ancestors' Day") is a 15-day Cambodian religious festival, culminating in celebrations on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, at the end of the Buddhist lent, Vassa.  The day is a time when many Cambodians pay their respects to deceased relatives of up to 7 generations.  Monks chant the suttas in Pali language overnight (continuously, without sleeping) in prelude to the gates of hell opening, an event that is presumed to occur once a year, and is linked to the cosmology of King Yama originating in the Pali Canon. During the period of the gates of hell being opened, ghosts of the dead (preta) are presumed to be especially active, and thus food-offerings are made to benefit them, some of these ghosts having the opportunity to end their period of purgation, whereas others are imagined to leave hell temporarily, to then return to endure more suffering; without much explanation, relatives who are not in hell (who are in heaven or otherwise reincarnated) are also generally imagined to benefit from the ceremonies.

Pictures of beautiful Cambodian sunsets: