Saturday, November 21, 2015

Be grateful for the clothes on your back and rice in your bowl

Hey y’all. Quite the eventful week. Maybe y’all can tell that from all the pictures I sent. I don't know if I mentioned it last week, but Elder Elieson and I went on a khet trip to the provinces this past week to conduct exchanges with the missionaries out there. It was my sixth time making the trip in total. In all likelihood, it'll be my last until y’all come and pick me up. This week was full of some great experiences.

First, starting on Sunday afternoon, some new missionaries from Battambang came in who were originally called to serve in California, but they are having some difficulties getting visas so they'll be here for the immediate foreseeable future. It was a good time trying to find out where their bus dropped them off in Phnom Penh, because they don't know Phnom Penh at all (I think each of them have been to Phnom Penh maybe once before) and they didn't have phones, and they didn't use the bus company which we use to ship all the Cambodian missionaries around, so we didn't know the name of the bus station when they told it to us (they borrowed a stranger's phone and called us). They didn't know the name of any of the roads or anything. All they could tell us was that they were next to the National assembly building. I was like "Which one?? I can name like 4 off the top of my head haha." They didn't know anymore details to give us, eventually we just got some location details off them (they told us they were next to the one with the statue of the 2 golden deer out front) which we knew, and then we raced over and grabbed them and brought them back to the mission home. Thankfully we had a huge pot of khaw (sweet and salty Khmer soup) boiling on the stove, so we had something to feed them with. Then we went on splits with them the rest of the afternoon. They're going to be great missionaries, whether they end up serving here or in America.

Elder Elieson and I with the new missionaries who came in last week, all supposed to go to America, but temporarily switched to our mission while waiting for visas to America. The one right next to me is Boran, my ward mission leader from Pochentong. Elder Johnson and I were the ones who helped him fill out his mission papers! Now he's finally out!

While out on splits with one of the new missionaries Elder Ey, we ran into this Russian guy who said he was from Moscow (his English wasn't very good so I had a hard time understanding him).  He said that he had learned with missionaries before and had actually read the Book of Mormon before. He said "That's a great book!". He was really interested in where our church building was and what time we met. He was disappointed that it was already evening (this was on Sunday) because he said he would have totally gone if he had known earlier. He's here for three more weeks though, so hopefully we see him out there this week!

Monday was when the emergency transfer for the entering missionaries occurred. There were only like 3 companionships changed, but one of them was Elder Osborne being moved out of Chamkarmon to go to Battambang! So now both of my kids have served in the khets. And both of my kids and I have the same exact number of areas: 3. Haha, pretty crazy.

Tuesday we had district meeting in the morning then Elder Elieson and I immediately headed out for Battambang at like 1:30. Fun fact about this journey: the Van Brocklins (a senior couple) had taken one of the vans out to the khets with their visiting family which only left us with one van (which needed to stay in Phnom Penh for some events the next couple days) and the Van Brocklin's car: a 2015 Ford Escape. So we got permission to take that puppy out. My word, any car that's nicer than a several-year-old stick shift 12 passenger Cambodian Toyota van seems like a spaceship. We managed to stuff in a couple bikes and lots of packages for missionaries in the khets. Don't worry, we cushioned the whole thing with like 20 towels to protect the interior of the car. We jimmy-rigged it pretty well.

Riding through Odombong, this jungley village in the Battambang elders area 
Looking out the Battambang elders' back porch
An item on a menu in Battambang they translated this dish as "Rice and Mud" hahaha. It's actually rice and this dried/salted fish jerky stuff they love here.

Our exchanges went great. On Wednesday in Battambang I went with Elder Zierenberg, from my group, and Elder Sok, who is about to finish his mission in 10 days, who are the zone leaders out there. It was a great exchange and we were able to get a lot of work done! I think my favorite part was at the end, when we decided to use the hour and a half we had left in the day after English class to go and find people who want to learn. We were contacting in this park alongside the Stung Sangkae River that goes through the middle of Battambang and I went up and talked to these 20-something year-olds who were chilling together on a bench. They were super cool. They said they just came to that park every night and chilled, because they spent all day every day studying hardcore, preparing to become military doctors. When religion was brought up they both said that they had a very minimal knowledge of Christianity. As we talked about it some more they showed more and more interest. When I told them that they could talk to God through prayer and that He would actually hear and answer their questions they got so excited. One of them was like "Wow! So you're telling me that we can pray and God will hear and answer which church is true?! That's so cool! Wait, and He'll answer other questions I have as well?! That's amazing!" I hope it turns out well for them and the Battambang elders.

Wednesday night the Siem Reap elders called and told us that they had a service project the next day and that if we had time while passing through they'd love for us to go and help out. So we said "sure sounds great!" and we left Battambang at about 6:00 the next morning and got to Siem Reap at about 8:30 and then put a couple of their companionships in the car (the other 2 biked) and drove out about half an hour, over near Angkor Wat, to go and help harvest rice. We did that for about 3 hours. It's kind of mind-numbing to think about how much you've cut and how far you have to go! It was a really cool service project though, cooler than the ones we typically do in Phnom Penh, which typically revolves around moving piles of brick shards around for people. All service is good service, it’s just that some service is more fun to do than other service. The people were way nice and fed us afterwards.

Elder Eppley and crew. Elder Eppley dies in like 10 days. Super weird...

Harvesting rice with my neakming headwrap. And yes, the freakishly white things are my legs. Sorry, I'm a missionary now, not a lifeguard 

Texas was well-represented out there
Then we pressed onward to Kampong Cham. We got there that night after a brief stop in Kampong Thom to drop off packages (we also had made a brief package stop in Pursat on the way to Battambang). The next day I went on exchange with Elder Paramore, from my group, and Elder Long, who is about to finish his mission in 10 days, who are zone leaders out there. Notice a pattern in those exchanges? That was a great exchange too. Elder Paramore noted at the end of the day that everything we planned actually worked out, which he said never happens when AP's come and do exchanges. Haha I guess we bring bad luck with us? It was fun though. We got a lot of lessons and contacts, all while having to do a lot of traveling across their area. Their area is huge, but man is it pretty. All rice fields and stuff. Like on the way to one investigator, all in one ride, we rode through rice fields, a bamboo forest, and ancient Khmae ruins to get to this guys house! Crazy.

This little kid served as our guide, leading us through allllll the ricefields to the correct one 

Can't believe it's already Thanksgiving again. I thought as I was preparing to leave for Cambodia that this mission would cause me to see everything I've taken for granted my whole life, and that has certainly come true. Just as we were coming back from Kampong Cham this morning, I had this random vivid flashback to an exchange in Saen Sok back in my training. So just you know, the majority of Cambodian kids only have one outfit and they wear that everyday, going days and days without washing it as well. Most of the time that outfit is a soccer jersey and shorts. They don't have any other clothes they wear. So at this family's house in Saen Sok, I remember the mom giving money to her four kids for them to run over and buy themselves new outfits, which were going to be soccer jerseys. They were so excited, you could tell it was a rare occasion. They ran over and came back in the middle of our lesson, and I just remember the mom yelling at one of her sons so bad because he bought a white jersey, which would show the dirt so much easier. The kid was just sobbing and sobbing. I don't know why I remembered that, but it came shooting into my mind this morning on the drive in. So be grateful for the clothes on your backs and the rice in your bowls. Not everyone has that. 

With a less-active named Dee we try and work with in our ward. He speaks at a rate of 3000 words a minute and is hilarious. He goes to Thailand pretty frequently though so it's hard to get him to church

I hope y’all have wonderful Thanksgivings! Zion's park and the Grand Canyon sound like they're going to be super fun! Can't believe you return to America in just 2 weeks Maddie! That flew by!
Love y’all!

Elder Burger

Editor's Note:  In preparing for a lesson on how to prepare for a mission, I asked Mitch what he thought were good things to do to prepare.  The following is his response:

    Gain a testimony of your own, through fasting and prayer, and learn to bear it.
    Familiarize yourself with scripture references. Not necessarily scripture memorizing, although that's good too, but especially just being able to remember the general gist of a verse and knowing exactly where to find it in the scriptures.
    Go out teaching and proselyting with the missionaries in your wards as much as possible!!!
    Live in the present and magnify the calling which you hold now. You can't just look to the future and say " Oh I'll be a good missionary once I'm out there" if you aren't doing the most you can right now to be a great priests' quorum second assistant, or stake youth representative or ward missionary or home-teaching companion or quorum member or brother or son. That's not how it works. There's not a magic button that switches when you enter the MTC, I promise. You've got to learn how to sacrifice with a cheerful heart and give your time, energy, and thoughts to the calling and assignments you now hold if you expect to do the same as a full-time missionary. If you aren't doing so now, its ok, just resolve today to change.
    Immerse yourself in good things everyday, including scripture study (not reading, but study), DAILY STUDYING CHAPTERS FROM PREACH MY GOSPEL, and learning how to really pour out your heart through prayer, not just saying a rote prayer for 15 seconds before you fall into your pillow.

Other things that help:
    Learning to do hard things. I think back to that 50 mile canoe trip we did for high adventure. Probably at least half of the kids left. I think back to who left and who stayed. Those who stayed are mostly on missions now. I can't say the same thing for those whom I remember quitting. Learn to persevere and stick with things.
    Getting along with people. Don't make fun of others because they're different from you, because that's not a release valve that you will have if you get a companion different from you.
    Live away from home for a time, if at all possible.
    Learn how to do household chores.
    Learn to cook.

    Keep yourself in good physical shape.

Elder Elieson and I posing with Elder Beacco, who came to the mission home so he could get a high quality photo of himself to send home to get photoshopped into his sister's wedding pics 
Riding through Odombong 
These kids were jumping literally 50 feet out of these trees into this creek. Looking at the creek it didn't seem that deep, but the kids said it was. I believe them because they were jumping off basically a 5 story building into it.

Working in the rice fields in Siem Reap

They fed us afterwards. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but Cambodians literally eat every part of every plant. Like they just pluck leaves off random bushes and then make soup out of it. They also love eating flowers. They're pretty good palate cleansers.

Biking through Kampong Cham

At Phnom Broh this morning on the way out of Kampong Cham. It means Boy Mountain. It's got a really pretty wat at the top of it.

Phnom Broh is literally run by monkeys. It's like Planet of the Apes. I don't know if y'all have spent very much time around monkeys but they're way creepy. Just like little, hairy, aggressive, mean, starving humans. Cute, but scary!

This doesn't really say anything cool, just the names of benefactors who donated to the wat, but Khmae is just so cool looking to me

There's even more cool stuff down behind the wat

This image of the angels and demons holding the naga in a sort of tug-of-war is a super famous legend in Cambodia, though I think its Hindi in origin. Its called the churning of the ocean of milk. You see this image EVERYWHERE

You always see statues of Buddha laying down as he enters nirvana. You can't see it, but Buddha is always pictured with circle swirls in the middle of his palms and feet. Isn't it interesting how all cultures have truth? A god laying down his body to rest as his spirit goes to the next world, with marks in his hands and feet as symbols of divine power? Come on!

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