Saturday, August 29, 2015

Like a Lightning Strike in a Summer Storm

Editor's note:  The majority of the pictures of the conference were taken by an official Church photographer.  The missionaries were not taking pictures during the meetings.

WHEWWW!!! One hundred percent guaranteed, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland will knock your socks off. That was the single greatest, most stressful, hectic, spiritually filled weekend I've had on my mission. What a bonanza.

After I emailed y’all on Saturday we chopped meat and veggies for 3 more hours and then it was finally finished. Saturday really was pure mayhem. Missionaries were coming in from the khaets all evening, which added to all the chaos. I went to bed with butterflies in my stomach thinking that tomorrow I was going to have to help translate for an Apostle. 

Early Sunday morning (and by early I mean the same time I've gotten up everyday for the last year) we woke up, got dressed, and threw ourselves and the 2 missionaries who were crashing at our house into our van and headed over to the mission home. There we gathered all the missionaries we could fit and then zoomed over to Diamond Island, which is just 10 minutes away from the mission home. There we unloaded and we walked inside to see a room that was much larger than what I was expecting. I was like "Man, there's no way we're going to fill all of this!" There were already some members sitting there, 2 hours before it started, because they were so excited to hear from an Apostle! We went over and checked the translation equipment, which was set up on 2 tables at the front of the room, adjacent to the stand. One table was for Khmae-to-English and the other one was for English-to-Vietnamese. Then we went with all the zone leaders and sister training leaders to get instruction on ushering and stuff. Elder Eppley and I weren't ushering really at all though, because we were having to run around with translation issues, or answering questions for people, and stuff like that.

Some of the greatest parts of that wonderful day were seeing my recent converts come to attend the meeting. People like Thol, Vin, Srey Tuuch, Puu Sarit, and Bong Deuon. Ahh it made me so happy. Reunions like that are the best, and they will only be sweeter in heaven:) It was also great seeing tons of members from both Stung Mean Chey and Pochentong. I'm always worried whether I'll be able to remember peoples' names but somehow the instant I saw anybody I knew their name jumped into my head, even for people which I hadn't really known too well. It was great.

Eventually, after about an hour of members streaming in, the place was full. The count that I heard was that we had 2035 people there. Apparently that was the largest gathering of members ever in Cambodia. So cool! Elder Eppley and I went to sit at the translation table with the Senior Sister Trainers, because we were four-way tag-team translating. For all men giving talks in Khmae Elder Eppley and I translated, and for the women that spoke, the sisters translated. 

It was like electricity filled the air when Elder Holland walked into the room. Everyone stood up and it was just amazing seeing him walk into the room with Elder and Sister Gong (Asia Area President) and Elder Khanakham as well (area authority). It brought back memories of just a few years ago when Elder Holland came down to do that youth fireside! He got up on the stage and blew everyone a big kiss and then motioned for us all to sit down.

The meeting began and it was so good. All the stake and district presidents in Phnom Penh spoke for about 7 minutes each, as well as a few additional testimonies from some members. I translated for the East district president and for the North Stake president. The translation actually ended up going really smoothly, all thanks to the gift of tongues. The East district president gave a great talk on the Jesus Christ and His Atonement and His role as our Redeemer.

The North Stake president gave a crazy good talk as well. At the beginning He talked about the woman who had a disease of blood for many years and then touched the robes of the Savior and was healed. And then he started telling a story. When he said the words "There once was a woman..." my heart rate jumped into my throat because I knew he was about to go into “story mode”. Let me tell you, Cambodian storytelling is just about the hardest thing to translate in the world. For one, their rate of speech accelerates about 2 or 3 fold and they start changing the way their voice sounds and using the most ridiculous onomatopoeia you've ever heard. But most of that crazy style happens in a more casual setting. And this stake president is very educated and articulate so it wasn't difficult, thank goodness! He just told a great story about a woman who had a daughter that got tangled up in addictive drugs. This mother became really concerned about her daughter and called the police to came and take her daughter to a rehabilitation center. When the police arrested her daughter she started fighting back at the police and screaming and cursing her mother as the mother watched on, crying. The daughter cried "Why would you do this to me mom?" So she got taken to the rehabilitation center and was there for 3 or 4 years recovering from her addiction. The whole time she wondered why her mom would do this to her, but once she had completely cut off the addiction they allowed her to leave. Her mother was waiting right outside for her with her arms open. Right then the daughter realized how everything her mother had done had been for her good and how for these last 3 or 4 years her mother had constantly been paying the rehabilitation fees. The story ends with them embracing. President Eng related the story to Heavenly Father, and how we must submit our wills to His, realizing that He always has a greater plan and vision for us than we can imagine. It was a great talk. I hope Elder Holland understood my English...

Then came Elder Holland... He didn't start his talk off immediately. He got up for a couple minutes and then turned the time over for some testimonies before he started his real talk. But man were those first couple minutes awesome! He basically just talked about how much he loved Cambodia! He's like "Isn't this just the greatest place?! I think I might just leave this meeting here, ditch the entourage and go out and hide here for the rest of my life! Tomorrow, the big headline in the church news, 'APOSTLE GOES MISSING IN CAMBODIA'. I never want to leave!!" Haha, it was hilarious.

After the testimonies ended, he got back up.  He gave the greatest talk on this subject: "Four reasons why I would join this Church if I wasn't a member." His four reasons were

1.    I would join this Church because it is a church that says that God has appeared on this Earth and spoken to men.
2.    I would join this church because in it I learn that I can live with my family forever. If we aren't willing to part with our children right now in this life, why would we want to part from them in the next? The great news is that we don't have to.
3.    I would join this church because of the Book of Mormon, which gives me more information and truth about Jesus Christ than any other book.
4.    I would join this church because of what it does for our youth.

At the end of it he bestowed an apostolic blessing on all of us. A choir made up of young single adults closed the meeting with "I Know that My Redeemer Lives". It was so powerful; I had tears welling up the whole time.

I honestly think though that the most powerful part of Elder Holland's talk for me was those first couple minutes, talking about how much he loved Cambodia and didn't want to leave. I felt those same stirrings in my heart so strong. I was like "I don't ever want to leave either!" As I sat there the grim reality of only having about 8 months left in Cambodia really dawned on me. I just can't believe that they're ever going to make me leave this place. It pains me having to think of that day when I finally have to get on that plane and say goodbye to this wonderful country and people. I've never felt such strong love and affection for people like this. That departure day is still far away though, so thankfully I can stuff those thoughts away.

After the meeting we immediately jumped in the van with the office elders, senior training sisters and hauled over to the south stake center, where we started getting the food ready to be cooked. We had gotten matching shirts made to wear over our clothes so we didn't smell like fried rice all day. It took a couple hours and a ton of effort on our part, but eventually everyone got their baay chaa. Haha, I never want to have to do that again; way too much time commitment. 

Right after lunch they had us all start lining up for our group photo so we'd be ready when Elder Holland came. By the time Elder Eppley and I got out of the kitchen almost everyone else was already rowed up for the picture. I realized that my coat was in the chapel so we hurriedly went through the gym door to go right next door and grab the suit coat . . . just to see Elder Holland, casually lounging on a bench with Elder and Sister Gong and Elder Khanakham standing by. Elder Holland says "Well my, where are y’all heading off to?" I managed to get out a lame 'Um sorry sir just grabbing my suit coat. We just got done cooking food.' He said "Good, better take care of that food!" Haha, just a little exchange but it was funny. It really was startled, just walking out and lifting up my head and seeing Elder Holland sprawled out across this bench, just chilling like it was nothing. 

So we took the big group pic and everyone got to shake his hand too. He asked us each to tell him our name and where we are from. Man is it something looking straight into an apostle's eyes. In the picture of me shaking his hand you can probably see how shell-shocked I was. 

The missionary meeting with Elder Holland was great. It was supposed to last for an hour and a half but it really went for almost 2 hours because Elder Holland just kept going (who in the world would ever stop him?!) And MAN was he ENERGIZED when he spoke. He repeatedly apologized to the sisters sitting in the front row for any spit that might come spraying. He did so much pulpit pounding and slapping that I thought that poor Cambodian pulpit was gonna become mulch. He wasn't angry or anything, but he certainly likes beefing up his energy when he's talking with missionaries! 

He said so many great things in that meeting. I'll share just a few with y’all:
  • In the gospel love and loyalty shared is love and loyalty multiplied.
  • We don't just send everybody to Cambodia. You are pretty special to the Lord.
  • A large portion of his talk was about how your mission will affect you for the rest of your life. He said, "if you do this right you'll be changed forever." He really got going as he talked about people asking returned missionaries when they'd get back to normal. Or when missionaries say that they can't wait to get back to real life. He got fiery. "Go back to real life?! This is as close to real life as it gets! So don't miss a minute of it, the good and the bad." He told us how he had thought of his mission every day for the last 52 years. He went on "If you can say 'I am converted to the gospel forever' afterwards, than it was worth it." He talked about how missionaries cannot ever go back and sink into their old habits and lives.  He said, "It’s one thing to lose sheep, it’s another thing to lose shepherds."
  • Apathy is a lot more dangerous than apostasy.  
  • He also talked a lot about being a disciplined missionary, and not a sloppy missionary. "Discipline has the same root as disciple."
  • We also talked a lot about creating spiritual experiences for investigators. He turned to John and we read about Nicodemus, and how he just couldn't immediately wrap his head around "birth by water".
  • We talked about the frustrations of teaching people and how we can more effectively go down to people's level and lift them to help them understand, just like the Savior did. He told us that as missionaries, we are God's investigators. Just as we are working with investigators here, He is working with us. It was a cool concept. 
  • At one point the lights went out for about 30 seconds (because this is Cambodia). He was right in the middle of a passionate part and he was just like "It's ok, it’s alright, we're not stopping. We're still here.' Then the lights went back on shortly there after, but it was just kinda funny.
  • Talking about prayer he told us how much effort we need to be putting into our prayers. "Just like Jacob or Enos, it requires hard work on our parts. Sometimes you've got to duke it out with the Spirit. Get a little bit muscular with it."
  • Then he basically ended with 'Missionary Work and the Atonement'. He said "the road to salvation always goes through the Garden of Gethsemane. Missionary work isn't easy because salvation is not a cheap experience!"

It was amazing. Simply put. The most poignant part of the whole thing though was when it was over. He got up and we all rose with him and as he is walking off he pauses on the step, looking down in thought, and he slowly looks up and in a soft voice, so soft I think that the missionaries in the back probably couldn't hear it, he says, "I blink twice, turn around, and I see myself exactly where you are now. One day, some of you will be up here where I am. You might not think it will ever happen. I didn't think it would either..." And with that he steps off the stand and walks out of the room, leaving us all in humble silence. It was so powerful, that moment really can't be described properly. 

What a special opportunity we were privileged to have! I'll remember that weekend for the rest of my life.

This next week will be fun as well. Tomorrow President and Sister Christensen leave for their semi-annual mission presidents' seminar with all the Asia Area mission presidents. They'll be gone in Hong Kong for a week, which frees up Elder Eppley's and my schedule quite a bit. This next week we'll be doing three exchanges, to the south, east, and Kampong Cham zones. It'll be great. We're super excited. The other weird thing is that transfers are already upon us. Yesterday we came up with a rough draft of what it’s looking like. We'll meet again with President today to discuss it further, as well as the schedule for MLC, leadership training, zone conference, and training for the new missionaries who will be coming in on September 10th. We're super excited for them to come, because our mission numbers are super low right now, and their group has 20 missionaries in it, so it'll help out a lot!

Well I love y’all! I hope you travel to London safe, Maddie. I'm glad high school is going so well Chloe and Riley! Bye!

Love Elder Burger

My MTC group all pictured together for the first time since Christmas

Played soccer with Vietnamese members again this morning. They all speak Khmae since they grew up in Phnom Penh (albeit super slangy/uneducated Khmae. Haha I love it)
A picture of Elder Eppley and I with the central zone (the Vietnamese speaking zone in Phnom Penh) from a few months back.

Homeless children on the side of the road. It's too common of a sight

There's this little rice shack at this kinda compound sort of thing which has about 10 families living there, and a few of them are actually less-actives. So we're there all the time and this little shack where a lot of them cook their food is always crawling with about 20-30 rats (some of them are big too, even for Cambodian standards).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Happy Birthday!!

Happy Birthday Mom and Riley!!!!!! I hope y’all had the best birthdays ever. It’s too bad y’all couldn't stay in Florida an extra week to celebrate them there. But lets be honest, a birthday spent in Texas, the Republic of, is the greatest.

This week has been way fun (and stressful). There are so many different things convening at once. Today Elder Holland will arrive. He's doing a 4-hour leadership training meeting for all the bishoprics, branch presidencies, and district and stake presidencies in Cambodia and Vietnam. Elder Eppley and I aren't involved with that at all. 

What we're going to be doing today is preparing a meal for 130 people tomorrow with the office elders and Senior Training Sisters. We're going to be making baay chaa (fried rice). So today we've got to cook endless pots of rice and cut up all the meat and veggies beforehand. It’s been taking so much time. We really don't have a pday. I'm only getting to email in short 30 minutes bursts. I just cut about 8 kilos of raw meat by myself, and I still have 4 left, although now I've somebody else helping me. After cutting meat for an hour and a half my fingers were all raisiny from the meat juices and they were all clenched up from holding the knife, haha. 

Tomorrow what the schedule is looking like is Elder Eppley and I, and all the zone leaders and sister training leaders, have to get to Diamond Island (a convention center) at 7:30am to have everyone get a bit of training on being ushers. Then at 8:00 the doors open and all the missionaries should be there at that time to sit in the seats at the very back. All members and everyone should be sitting in their seats by 8:30. The hall we're going to be in has room for like 2000 people or something like that. I don't know, I haven't seen it yet, but the Service Center asked Elder Eppley and I to go tonight and take a look at all of it. So we'll be doing that this evening, going and helping them get everything set up. 

Elder Eppley and I thought we would be able to just usher and sit down and everything would be all nice and easy. But this last week, while on exchange in North zone, we got a call from the Service Center asking us to be the Khmae-to-English translators for the big member meeting in the morning! That meeting is going to be from 9:00-11:00 and the majority of that two hours, for basically everyone speaking except Elder Holland,  is going to be in Khmae. So all the non-Khmae people in the meeting, including Elder Gong and Elder Holland, are going to have my voice and Elder Eppley's inside their ears... Ohhhh man, talk about stress. Elder Eppley knows Khmae, but I sure don't! Geez louise. I'm not going to lie; I'm way scared to translate for an Apostle. 

In my mission, I've been in the habit of reading my patriarchal blessing and my setting apart blessing and my father's blessing. There are always different phrases that stand out in those 3 blessings to me in different times that I read it. This last week as I was reading I felt comforted as I read that the language will come to me in times of great need. Here's hoping that Sunday morning qualifies...

On Wednesday Elder Eppley and I went on exchange to North Zone. He went with the zone leaders, Elder Long and Elder Elieson in Tuk Thlaa, which is Elder Eppley's birth area, and I went with my son, Elder Uhi and also Elder Ros in my birth area, Pochentong!! It was so much fun. I got to see a few people that I taught when I was there a year ago. I was surprised that anyone remembered me. I was just a little កូន back then! It was so much fun going around with Elder Uhi for a day and seeing how he's grown. He's such a good elder, it’s insane. And he's going to be a zone leader!!! Elder Elieson and Elder Uhi will be combining their areas, Tuk Thlaa and Pochentong, and will be serving as zone leaders together. I’m so proud. In other transfer news, Elder Morris is leaving the office, which is sad, but I'm so happy for him because he will be going back to Central zone to be the zone leader over both Central zone and Vietnam. We just combined those zones in this mini transfer (we also changed up the zones in the khets so now it’s Siam Reap and Battambang together and Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham together.) We're all way pumped for Elder Morris, because this means hell finally be able to go to Vietnam! He has no Vietnamese blood so he can't serve there, which is understandably way hard on him, since basically everyone else in the program has some Vietnamese blood and they go back and forth between Vietnam and Cambodia. But now he will be able to go in and do exchanges! Good for him! Also, Elder Steadman and Elder Quirante, who are the biggest buddy-buddies in our whole mission got announced to be companions with each other in Kampong Thom whitewashing! That was a superrrrr fun call to make. Those guys have been dying to serve with each other their whole mission. So on transfer calls night we called them first and put them both on speaker phone, and then I told them that they would be serving in Kampong Thom with each other. They flipped, haha. 

Our mission is really on the skeleton crew right now. We're having 9 missionaries die on Monday. It’s going to be really sad to see them ago, I think especially Elder Bao, Cuong, and Tran, who are all Vietnamese elders. They have really changed the whole Vietnamese program from the less-than-savory thing it was in the past to a pillar of strength in our mission that everyone is excited about. Plus they're the 3 funniest elders in our mission. We were driving around with them yesterday to go to lunch and we were dying laughing the whole time. They're great guys. 

Well I don't really have any time today. Sorry it’s so lame. I would really appreciate y’alls prayers to help me and Elder Eppley translate tomorrow. I think Elder Holland might appreciate it too!

I love y’all! Have a great first week at school!

Love Elder Burger

Our new office elder got bit by a monkey this last week in Kampong Cham. Pretty gnarly stuff. He's had like three rounds of rabies shots already.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Preparing for an Apostle

One of the best things I've learned in my mission is the importance of following up. Several times in the last few months I've invited those of you who may read these boring letters I write who haven't yet had the opportunity to read the Book of Mormon to go ahead and do so. If y’all haven't yet done so that’s ok. Why not quit putting it off and read in it today? I promise you have nothing to lose (and absolutely everything to gain) by doing so! Not knowing where to find one is an excuse that I will easily counter by putting this link here:  So please, just order a copy (ឥតគិតថ្លៃ) and try reading it for once! Too often people hear about our church, hear about the Book of Mormon and they just say "oh, well that's nice", or even "oh, well that's weird." I would like to put forward that the Book of Mormon is not weird at all, and it’s not even "just nice". It is truth. It is the words of God written by ancient prophets. It was translated by Joseph Smith through the power of God. Those statements may sound very absolute or polarizing or naive to those who haven't read the Book of Mormon. But I promise you that if you will sincerely read the Book of Mormon, than you will know that what I said is true. I'll put a guarantee on that. I challenge all of y’all to read the Book of Mormon and to ask God yourself if it’s true or not. If you can read through it all and sincerely pray and ask God if it’s true or not, and you can still come up to me and say that it isn't true than when I get back to America next year I will take you out and personally buy you a $50 meal at the restaurant of your choosing. There you go. You have my challenge in writing. I will stick to that. So go ahead. Y’all have a little less than a year! Hurry!

Also to follow up, I hope y’all had the opportunity to listen to “Profile of a Prophet” this last week. It really is great. Another talk I heard this week which I would recommend is "The Inconvenient Messiah", given by Elder Holland when he was a mere 42 years old and the president of BYU. That is a powerful talk as well.

Well our trip ended just as good as it started! It was a really fun 5 days. After emailing y’all on Monday I did another exchange with Elder Allred and Elder Jones. A lot of the appointments fell through (which is wont to happen sometimes) but we ended up being able to sit down with this one family who has like 10 little kids (I think some of them were the neighbors' kids). They fed us some rice and some pork which was cooked with lots of គ្រឿង (Cambodian spices) and ប្រហុក (fermented fish paste). It was delicious. We shared a lesson about the sons of Helaman with them. They really seemed to enjoy it. With all members, but especially with recent converts like them, we love just sharing stories out of the Book of Mormon. We've grown up hearing them our whole lives but they've never heard any of them. Some of these people have only heard the name ព្រះយេស៊ូគ្រីស្ទ (Jesus Christ) in passing a few times. So helping them become familiar with these stories really helps strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ.

Members homes in Siem Reap

Tuesday morning President conducted the missionary interviews in Siem Reap and then went to meet with the district president up there to further discuss a council that we had discussed with him last time. I think one of my favorite parts of being in the office has just been to go around with President interpreting for him as he meets with the district presidents. I mean, talk about the inner mechanics of the church! We have to help President explain everything about how to run councils, gathering and distribution of fast offerings, etc... Crazy stuff

Tuesday afternoon President conducted interviews in Battambang and then Elder Eppley and I went on exchange with some Battambang elders. He went with the zone leaders, Elder Quirante and Elder Monson, and I went with Elder Carter (also trained by Elder Johnson!) and Elder Chhouk. We went to go teach these investigators who lived in the straight jungle! It was unreal. In the middle of the jungle is this little bamboo train, which has this little path going alongside it, which we were riding the bikes on. Well since I was getting doped and the path was getting increasingly narrower, to the point where it was just a foot across with dense vegetation on both sides, we had to hop off and just walk. It was crazy being in the jungle like that! We were there in the evening so when we were walking in we could still see pretty decently. I tried to get good photos of it and that time but it just didn't turn out. So we walked 5 more minutes to this investigators' house out there. We had a great lesson with them. Those investigators said that they hadn't had the opportunity to read in the Book of Mormon since the last time they had met. I was grateful that those elders did exactly what Preach My Gospel tells us to do and we threw out our original lesson plan and we just sat there and read out of the Book of Mormon with them. If they aren't reading, they will not be converted to the gospel. I have had many, many powerful lessons with investigators and recent converts where instead of just teaching the original lesson we had planned, we read with them instead because they had failed to do so on their own. That little hand-holding goes so far. When they fall a little, we need reach down and help pick them right back up! After the lesson ended we left to return back home. We saw Elder Carter's bike though and realized that the back tire had gone completely flat during the lesson! So we had to walk all the way out of the jungle in the pitch pitch black of a Cambodian countryside night. Then once we got to the road, Elder Carter and I took turns doping each other back to the elders house. Doping on a flat tire is a real leg workout, for sure.

In the middle of the jungle in Battambang. It was ងងឹតឆឹងហ្មង (void/pitch black)

Wednesday morning we left to return to Phnom Penh. On the way back we made a couple hour stop for President to interview the elders in Posat and to eat as well. Then we got back to Phnom Penh around 4, hopped into the van with the office elders and headed off to the North Stake Center for English class! 

We've got transfer calls going out tomorrow! Mini-transfers! Although this mid-way transfer actually won't be so mini, since we have 9 missionaries who will be dying 3 weeks early so that they can get back in time for the semester. They will die Aug 24th, the day after Elder Holland comes. So there will actually be a decent amount of people changing around in the middle of the transfer! 

Everyone is getting super excited about Elder Holland! T-minus 8 days till we see him!  On Sunday the 24th we will meet in a big ole auditorium with all the members and we will have a devotional with him from 9-11. Then right after that all the missionaries will hop on their bikes or ride in tuk-tuks over to the South Stake Center for lunch and for a brief Mission Devotional with President Christensen. Then at 2:00 Elder Holland is scheduled to arrive at the stake center to do a missionary meeting with all of us! So we get to listen to him twice in one day! It’s been fun putting together all the logistics for missionaries coming down to the city. We've got it all basically worked out now. It'll be crazy, but super fun. We've been listening to a few Elder Holland talks trying to get ourselves ready for the fire! So yeah, if y’all have any free time this week I encourage y’all to go listen to "The Inconvenient Messiah"! 

This next week I'll be emailing on Saturday (like normal). I don't know how much time we'll have though, since we'll be doing a lot of food preparations for the missionary lunch on Sunday. It’s going to be a lot of work to put together fried rice for 130 people!

Well I hope y’all get home safe from Florida! Have a great week dealing with the post-vacation blues!

You can also see how ghostly pale elders' legs become out here

We had to cross this stream a couple different times. (Disclaimer: I'm only not wearing a helmet because Elder Eppley and I forgot to bring them. Normally we all wear helmets, I absolutely pinky promise)

The water was too deep for my bike to get across so I had to lift the bike out

Countryside puppy: The sequel to Slum Puppy a year ago

Playing with some puppies while waiting for an appointment on exchange in Siem Reap 

This cute little girl, whose head is shaved because she just had a huge surgery to remove a face cyst, got lost inside of her own shirt for like 30 seconds haha (probably because she wasn't used to wearing a shirt. Kids under the age of five just run around naked most of the time) 

Playing soccer out at Toul Kok with some Vietnamese members