Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas in Cambodia

Christmas morning. Don't judge the elder tan too bad, alright?

Merry Christmas! But more importantly, Happy 25th Anniversary Mom and Dad! Thanks for being such wonderful parents and encouraging and supporting me in my mission.

It was great getting to Skype y’all again. I love hearing y’alls voices and seeing y’alls faces.

I do like being cut off from the materialism of American Christmas for sure. In Prey Cho I saw zero Santa hats, zero reindeer, zero Christmas trees, zero toy stores. Instead of Christmas bells jingling across a parking lot were the Pali funeral chants of monks floating across rice fields. Instead of reindeer hooves heard prancing on the roof were the scampering claws of fat old rats as they ran to and fro across the metal roof of the rice mill we live inside. Instead of Santa coming down the street with a bag of toys in hand was a smiling lookpuu biking past us on a country road, swinging a freshly killed mongoose by the tail.

Our landlord stomping fish to make ប្រហុក, that fermented fish paste that the khmaes just love
Christmas in Cambodia is certainly interesting. I've had it twice now, and it’s been a bizarre surreal experience both times. Here in Cambodia probably half the people have never heard about Christmas, and the other half who have don't really give a care. Makes for an interesting day as people continue going around their every day business. The men and women go to their fields and the children go to school. Christmas morning we biked around to the members of our group presidency, which is Puu Dee and Bong Jea, and gave them and their families bags of fruit we bought at the market that morning. Then we went around to all the active members (which was a decent amount, but certainly easier than doing that in a ward or branch) and gave them little bags of goodies that Elder Smith had made for all of them. Then in the afternoon we caught a car over to Kampong Cham to eat dinner with a senior couple and the other missionaries, and watch the 2015 Christmas slideshow, with pics from the whole year, and the First Presidency devotional as well. Then the morning of the 26th I Skyped y’all, and then we got back home and it was back to normal again!

Christmas party with Kampong Cham Zone

Going around on Christmas with everybody just going about their normal day makes me feel like Alma, where I want to be able to cry with the voice of a trump and shake them and say "Don't you know what we are celebrating today?! The birth of our Savior! Yours and mine! And guess what else? WE'RE SIBLINGS! We have the same Heavenly Father who wants us both to return to heaven, and because of our Savior we can! Isn't that wonderful? Don't you want to learn about this?! Don't you want to follow all this?!" 

But, like Alma, having the voice of an angel isn't my lot in life. I'm just a twenty-year-old kid out here in the middle of Cambodia. Day after day as missionaries we go around, inviting people to just try out the most wonderful thing they could ever possibly conceive, and most of the time, they don't take it. You love them and you walk up and talk to them, and every time you get the most wonderful image in your head of what they can become through the Atonement, of the blessings God has in store for them if they will just take one small step forward, just try it out, and then most of them turn down the offer. That's one of the great not-so-secret secrets to missionary work though I think. You've got to make yourself vulnerable. It would be so easy to be cynical and just think, "This person isn't going to want to learn. I'll talk to them but I already know they'll reject me' or "Wow that was a good lesson, but the probability of this guy pushing through to baptism and being an active member the rest of his life is next to zero". Throwing cynical walls around your loving hopes for people certainly would protect you from hurt. It would make missionary work less painful. But that's not what it’s about. As missionaries we love everyone we see because of the sweet gift of charity that God has blessed us with, and we have to use that gift to the max. That means no walls getting thrown up. To see them through heaven's eyes is the opposite of cynicism. It means knowing and expecting that everyone you talk to has the ability to gain eternal life. That everyone you talk to could one day become a branch president or Relief Society president. That everyone you talk to can keep the commitments you lovingly extend. That your investigator really will do what he says and cut off alcohol. It means believing your investigator really will come to church when they say they will. True love I think requires a firm belief in the strengthening and changing power of Christ's Atonement and a firm belief and trust in others' use of agency. Of course if they don't follow through, if they don't go to church, if they tell you they're too lazy to learn, it’s going to hurt you more this way, because you generally believed and saw what they could become. You knew what God would have them be. But I think seeing people and believing in their potential to be changed through Christ's Atonement is so much closer to how Heavenly Father sees them. Heavenly Father is no skeptic. He is no cynic. If I have learned anything on my mission, it's that He loves all of His children perfectly. He sets all of us up to succeed. No one came to fail. Everyone can believe. Everyone can repent. Everyone can change and become who God would have them be. And if they choose not to, it hurts, but at least you know you did your part with as much love and faith as you could muster.

One of the people we are teaching has changed right before our eyes. His name is Piset. When I first came a few weeks ago he was a guy who had been contacted just a couple days before but hadn't learned yet. The first time we went over he really didn't seem that into it, said he was about to leave and didn't really have any time. But then we went over again and he was more inviting. We taught him the first, second, and third lesson, and with each lesson and each commitment kept he has become more and more inviting. Now at the end of every lesson he says ' Teacher! (that’s what most non-members call us, not elder). Please, come as often as you can! And if you come back in the evening you can teach my wife too!" So now she is learning. He has come to church for two weeks in a row now. He's awesome!

Puu Dee and Ming Sophoas and their daughter Hanaa

There are so many amazing things that I hear from the Cambodian members here. Ming Sophoas, the wife of Puu Dee, came to help us teach this new investigator we have named Om Nat, who lives way up in the rice fields in Phum Srok Ontung. She gave such a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon. She said when her husband first found the church and began learning about it, she would take the Book of Mormon during the day as he left to work, and she would take it out into the rice fields with her during the day, and whenever they had a break she would sink down in the fields and read from it. 

Even less-active member's testimonies are still there, even if present circumstances don't let them go. One less-active neakming can't go to church because her husband hates Christians. But when we went over to visit and answered her question about why there are so many different Christian churches, she said, "I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know he saw God." That simple testimony led me to the feel the Spirit so strong. I know that Joseph Smith saw God too! I know God called him to be a prophet. Through Joseph Smith, God brought us the Book of Mormon. I have never touched, seen, read, or heard anything that brings me more lasting comfort and abiding joy than the Book of Mormon. Ever since the first time I read and prayed about it I have known it's the word of God. The knowledge God has blessed me with about the truthfulness of that book has helped me more times than I could ever possibly count.

I love being a missionary. I love being a representative of God. The mission is the hardest thing I have ever, ever done, and I really do miss y’all (even though Maddie never seems to think I do), but I love what I'm doing and I know this is where God wants me to be.

I love y’all! Happy 25th anniversary Mom and Dad! Happy 17th birthday Chloe!! 

Love Elder Burger

A bucket of fish heads, right outside our house

Coca-cola slowcooked chicken for Christmas lunch. It was pretty decent. I'm not that good of a cook though.

Farmer Puppies

Monday, December 21, 2015

Turkeys and Elephants

Grandson/friends of someone we teach.  They thought trying on our helmets was the funniest thing ever!

So on the ride here we are riding in a van squished between about 20 other Khmaes, old and young. I'm in the front seat, with an ome broh on my left and the driver further on my left. We're hurtling down the road, and I close my eyes and start drifting off, slouched against the side of the van. All of a sudden I hear the driver curse and say "My word! All I really see nowadays are elephant statues, but look, it’s a real-life elephant!". I open my eyes and sure enough, we're passing a man riding his elephant alongside the national road on the way to Kampong Cham. ជយោ!កម្ពុជាយើង!

So there’s a fun story from our drive this morning. Our driver was funny. He had the Lord's Prayer memorized and kept reciting it when we told him we were missionaries. Literally just about the only Cambodian I've ever met who has memorized that.

We saw a french chicken (Khmae for turkey) in the middle of Kvet Thom the other day! What in the world... First turkey I've seen in Cambodia.

Other than that this morning has been a pretty typical p-day. Woke up this morning, showered, rode the 4 kilos to the market (which is the furthest from a market I've ever been in Cambodia), bought our food for the next week, came back, studied, cleaned the house, and waved down a van. Then we walked a kilo or so from the van drop off to the email shop, since we don't have bikes in Kampong Cham. Now we're here!

This last week has been way cool. . . as in temperature. In the mornings and evenings it’s been a brisk 70 degrees. I shiver on our bike rides home at night, because the breeze just picks up over the rice fields and douses me in cold. No enveloping dust/slum pollution to serve as a blanket for me this year.  Elder Smith loves the temperature though. He makes fun of me for being cold. Ohhh just wait till next year... Then he'll feel my pain.

As bad as I think it is, the Khmaes seriously pretend like the polar ice caps have shifted to cover Cambodia. They get all wrapped up in blankets and scarves and beanies and what not, hahaha.  Ahhh . . . it’s so funny. The other day we go over to our investigator’s house, who will be baptized in 2 weeks, and her son comes out of the house and he goes "Wheewee! It’s cold! I was riding my moto back from Prey Totung this morning and the wind made my face go so numb you could slap me right in the face and I would never know", haha. 

Out in Phum Srok Ontung, or Eel Country Village

Friday we saw the AP's, Elder Elieson and Elder Christensen! They were riding through Prey Cho after doing an exchange in Kampong Cham on the final leg of their khet trip. They dropped off a box of Books of Mormons that we requested and then we decided to go on a quick hour long split with each other! So Elder Elieson and I went contacting and Elder Christensen went with Elder Smith to teach our less-active first counselor! Way fun. Those guys are the coolest! Man I love my group!

Speaking of my group, I'll be going on exchange with Elder Paramore tonight. He's coming to Prey Cho with me after we have district meeting this afternoon. For district meeting, all the districts in the mission got a copy of the 2014 MoTab Christmas concert! Apparently the Muppets were the guests. So we'll see how that goes.

Yesterday at church we had special visitors! President and Sister Christensen decided to come up to church in Prey Cho with their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. So good seeing them again! When they pulled up in front of the building apparently their daughter-in-law said "This is the church? Like the LDS church??". Ahhh, the joys of going to church in a former sweatshop, overgrown with vegetation. Yes, that is our church indeed.

Got a chocolate craving last night. Only way to possibly satiate that on a Sunday night in Prey Cho is to go ahead and eat the remaining 6 days on your advent calendar.

I'm loving my area. There are some of the most amazing members here. And the investigators we're finding and teaching are amazing as well. Yesterday we had three come to church! Plus on Saturday, we taught both the first, second, and third lesson to different people, and all three lessons were amazing. The one time we taught the first lesson, to this one eyed lookpuu who we contacted a few days ago, the Spirit was so strong as we recited the First Vision. He was oo-ing and aw-ing as we said it. 

Well I'm excited to talk to y’all on Christmas (for me it'll be the 26th!). Love y’all!

Merry Christmas!

Love Elder Burger

This won't be remotely cool to anyone else, but I found a quarter in our house today! First quarter I've seen on my mission.

Hanaa, the daughter of Puu Dee. She's 3, and she's the cutest. Way sassy

Monday, December 14, 2015

Candidates for Immortality, but Strangers to Truth

Highs and lows characterized this week; and boy, were the highs high and the lows low!

So just a quick recap of last Monday to explain where those wat pics came from. We all hopped in a couple tuk-tuks to go to this wat called Wat Han Jay. One of the elders saw it in some tourist pamphlet book he's got. It was fun. Definitely the most unique wat I've been to. There are so many stairs to get up to it though! It literally looks like a parabola from the bottom.  Then we held district meeting Monday night, which is different than Tuesday morning, when all the other districts in the mission do their district meeting. We do it Monday so we don't have to waste more time coming all the way back to Kampong Cham again on Tuesday.
Elder Smith and I 
At a wat last pday. It's full of fruit statues. Pretty eclectic
View from the top of the wat.  That is the Mekong River in the background
Prey Cho is such a great area. I love it so much. The people here are so welcoming, both members and non-members alike! The active members' faith is so strong. It's incredible serving in such a young group in the church. Not even two years old. The members don't know a ton, but they believe and follow what they do know. Our group is almost entirely composed of neakmings and om srey's (basically a bunch of women from 35-60 years old). In my personal study this week, one thing I studied was President Nelson's talk from this most recent general conference. In his talk he quoted President Kimball's prophecy that “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” I think Cambodia is very indicative of this prophecy in general, but particularly out in Prey Cho. It is a village overwhelming made of females, and the active membership in our group is even more lopsided to the female side. We're trying to find and baptize, or reactivate Melchizedek priesthood holders! 

People in the khets are so welcoming. It seems the more rural you go, the friendlier they get. Everyone we meet invites us to come and sit down on their wooden bed-platform thing outside their home and talk with them. Most of them don't want to learn when we put it to them though. But they certainly are friendly.

Cambodians in general usually freak out when they see an American speak Khmae, but it is multiplied by at least 10 out here in Prey Cho. People go nuts. Like on Saturday we biked out to this village out in the fields and palm trees called “Tall House Village”. We pull into the first house in this little community that we see has people, and they are like “what the heck? What in the world are white people doing here?”  I guarantee no American has ever seen this village except Mormon missionaries. And then we open our mouths and begin speaking with them and they flip, and they call the whole village over. People kept riding their bikes past and then someone would yell "Hey our brothers have come!!". Haha at one point we had like 20 people around us. Way funny. . .

So ya, if I didn't tell y’all last week, this area is basically composed of houses lined along the side of the national road, and then you ride off onto dirt paths off the road into the rice fields and it’s literally rice as far as you can see. And you see just kind of dense patches of palm trees in the distance and that’s a village. And you look in another direction a kilo away and there’s another dense cluster of palm trees and that’s a village. You can see some of the stilted houses roofs poking out of the trees. It is beyond beautiful here . . . Literally beyond words.

Eel Country Village

Out in another village. This is a few kilos to the southeast

It's funny how often on the mission I've had to contemplate the phrase of Elder Holland's about why missionary work is so hard. His answer: “because salvation is not a cheap experience.”  That sentence has prompted me to do a lot of thinking, especially a couple days in the middle of this week. 

Thursday we pulled up to our investigator's house, who was supposed to be baptized this Sunday (yesterday). Well he was just plastered drunk. It hurt, because I knew how close he was to getting this saving ordinance for himself. But I was pleased to not feel any anger inside of myself at him. Earlier in my mission, in similar circumstances, I felt angry, impatient, and frustrated when people did things like that. But I've come to realize that we are all people and we all fall short and we all have weaknesses; and anger and frustration fixes none of it. This time I couldn't help but feel love for Om June, and just smile, knowing that, even though he had gotten drunk, this little 5 foot tall, poor, old, completely toothless Cambodian man would get another chance. And another. And another. Because of the charity and love and patience of the Being who I am privileged to serve. So the least I can do is at least try to have an inkling of those feelings in myself for him.

Here are those three little girls I was talking about last week. The one sitting is a recent convert. She's twelve. Her faith is the strongest I think I've ever seen in a twelve year old. Her name is Daleeh

So that was a low for sure. Other things that bothered me were just a couple days of talking and inviting so many people to come to Christ, so many people who I felt a genuine love and hope for in my heart as we talked, and they rejected it. They say that they're Khmae and their ancestors are Khmae and Khmaes are Buddhist and that’s just how it is. Or that all religions are good and teach people to become better people, so it doesn't matter what path you take... The same old stuff I've heard my whole mission. Sometimes it’s tough not to let that stuff get to you when you love people so much. When all you are doing is pleading with them to try it out. When you know they have the time to learn but they say they don't. It always goes back to being an ordained representative of Jesus Christ. I think Elder Holland is correct when he says that all missionaries will have to go through, in a much, much smaller proportion, those things that Christ had to go through. And certainly He, above everyone else, faced rejection from those He loved. 

So it’s not always dandy on the mission, haha. Sometimes it’s hard not to get discouraged. Sometimes I feel like I'm reeling in feelings of inadequacy, that I'm not good enough, that I could have done more, or tried harder, although I've always felt like I've given it my all. But sometimes I feel like I gave 110% and I think back and I wanted to have given 120%. But those feelings don't come from God. When those come I pray and I pray, and most of the time Heavenly Father responds with feelings of warmth and peace to my soul to let me know what I'm doing is enough. Those feelings never come when I'm out and about; just in those quiet moments, where I reach a gap during language study, or in the morning when I'm eating breakfast. When I head out of the house, my mind clears and I see things in a clear light, as they really are. 

Friday and Saturday made up for whatever troubles were there earlier in the week. We had an opportunity a couple of times to go and help lift rice in baskets up into this members rice storage bins for a couple hours Friday. We also helped an investigator put up a new wall for his house which he is having to rebuild, because his house collapsed because of rotten wood. We were able to teach a lot of people and find some new investigators too!

One of those investigators is this single mom named Jan-Naa. She is in her forties and has a little boy who is 4. She married late, and just 4 or 5 months ago left her husband because he was always drunk. So she is living alone in this house, every day just biking her little kid over to school, and then going and helping people harvest their rice for menial wages. What a difficult life she has. We testified to her of the peace and joy that enters our lives as we learn and follow Jesus Christ, who we explained is our Savior. She said she was free all the time and that we could come back and teach her. She also mentioned that she was friends with Ming Saophoan, who is a very active member (she's the lady we lifted rice for). So a couple days later we came back with Ming Saophoan (who has been friends with Jan-Naa since they were in grade 1, it turns out). We had a really powerful lesson with each other, with a very peaceful feeling throughout as we explained to her God's plan of salvation for His children. Normally that wouldn't be the first lesson we share with people, but we felt that it was what was right for her. She unfortunately wasn't able to make it to church, because she had to go work in other people's rice fields. I can't wait till January, when all the harvesting will be done and everyone will be free!

Rice fields as far as you can see

I love the mission. I love how it is always changing, always moving us out of our comfort zones, always challenging us to do new things and confront old weaknesses. Being way too hard on myself has always been something I've dealt with, and I'm still trying to get over it. I know the Atonement is there for everything though, not just our sins. That's a teaching that has really sunk into my heart as I have taught it to others on my mission. I love our Savior Jesus Christ, and as I continue to serve Him, I feel like I know Him better and better. I love this time of year, to reflect on the joyous birth of Him who came to lift us all.

This week I found a Teachings of Joseph Smith book in my bedroom. It obviously had some really great stuff in there, but let me just share one thing from it. "A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race. This has been your feeling, and caused you to forego the pleasures of home, that you might be a blessing to others, who are candidates for immortality, but strangers to truth."

I cherish this opportunity I have to invite others to come unto Christ, even if most don't accept that invitation. Even if save it be just one soul, I'll keep trying to help all these wonderful candidates for immortality learn, love, and live by eternal truths from a loving Heavenly Father.

Love y’all!

Love Elder Neuberger

Helping a member lift rice up into her rice storage bins around the back of the house 

Aragog, is that you?  Our church building is an arachnophobe's worst nightmare

The stairs at the wat literally look like a parabola from the bottom.
Climbing up all those stairs at the wat means taking a quick nap on the giant pomegranate statue at the top

The Mekong River

Some 1000 year old ruins in the midde of this wat

Some monks' robes drying in the breeze

Cool graffiti. Wish y'all knew Khmae, then it'd be cooler!
This is also pretty funny. It says "place monks drink beverages", but it'd be a lot funnier if y'all would quit being idle and just learn khmae.

dino in the woods

Monk walking at the wat

In Eel Country Village (one of the villages in our area)

Egrets flying across the rice fields
Water buffalo

Buddhist stupa in the middle of the rice fields
Sunset as we're biking back from a far south village