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).

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