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

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