Monday, May 16, 2016

God Is Our Loving Heavenly Father

I always wish you could feel heat through pictures. This is in the slums along the railroad. The trash and all the corrugated tin just radiate heat and humidity combined with with a stinky force. If you zoom in close you can see the sweat dripping off my nose.

I've thought long and hard why missionaries must end after just two short years. I mean two years really isn't that long after all. Wouldn't it make sense for the Lord to call us for longer? At the two year mark you're just starting to get into the groove. Only then do you really feel like you're beginning to understand how to contact, how to teach, how to work with members. A simple answer came to me though as I pedaled to an appointment a few months ago: missions are just two years in order to keep in harmony with what the rest of a mission is, that is, an experience that's always stretching you and kicking you out of your comfort zone. Truly the mission is a custom-heated refiner's fire.The Lord is always ready with a new companion, a new area, a new assignment to help you reach for greater heights. So how fitting that the mission's final gift to a missionary is one last great kick out of your comfort zone back into civilian life?

Now when I say "civilian life" I am careful not to equate that with "real life". That is in honor (and fear) of Elder Holland, who told us back in August, when he came and visited our mission, "I hate when missionaries say 'I can't wait to get back to real life.' Real life?! The mission is as close to real life as it gets!" 

Elder Holland didn't elaborate further, so I've pondered what he said a lot since then. Why is the mission real life?? I think it is simply because you see what life really is. Life is not a plodding monotony of work, school, sports, and social media. Life is a meaningful segment of eternity! Like President Uchtdorf shared at Conference, "Forever is composed of nows." We came to Earth to gain a body, learn, change, grow, and prove our loyalty to God. In the mission you readily recognize that everyday as you labor side-by-side with the Master in your assigned corner of the great vineyard of souls. We did not choose to come to Earth because we wanted to score touchdowns, get a huge salary, or rack up Twitter followers and Facebook friends. We chose to come because God loved us, we loved Him, and we knew He would follow through on His promise to make us as He is, as long as we would follow through on ours to remember and obey Him. A mission helps take those sometimes myopic lenses of life's day-to-day doldrums and corrects the prescription to fit our eternal eyes.

In that respect, I am full of gratitude for my mission and what it has done for me. The mission has blessed me in every way I could have imagined. "I cannot say the smallest part which I feel." I like the way Ammon puts it best: 

"How great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from [our homes] that God would have granted unto us such great blessings? And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell? Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren...were in darkness...but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work."  Alma 26:1-3

There is no greater blessing in a mission than knowing that you were an instrument in the hands of God. Before my mission I always assumed that we would instantly become instruments, just like that. But that isn't totally true. God "makes" us into instruments. He constantly shapes us and forms us by giving us certain companions, certain areas, certain assignments, molding us into the exact instrument He needs us to be.

I know the Lord is with us every second of our missions. He praises us when we do well and He comforts us when we're down. He says, "Bear with patience thine afflictions and I will give unto you success." And so "we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets, yea, and we have taught them [in their fields]" and occasionally, "we have been cast out, and mocked...and we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.
Now behold we look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; Yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.”  (Alma 26:27-31)

I feel the sweetest happiness as I think of those to whom God sent me to invite to come unto Christ. As their faces come into my mind, I can't help but yearn that they'll stay faithful to that which they know to be true. But I am comforted as I reflect on the scripture:

"Behold, they are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are His; and He will raise them up at the last day. Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to His praise, yea let us give thanks to His holy name, for He doth work righteousness forever."  (Alma 26:7-8)

Another that brings me peace is this: 

"And he gathereth his children from the four quarters of the earth; and he numbereth his sheep, and they know him; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd; and he shall feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture." (1 Nephi 22:25)

I am grateful for the greater understanding I now have of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I have began to understand just how personal and individual the Atonement really is. I really think that if I was, or you were, the only person on the face of the Earth, Christ would still have come and performed the Atonement, just for you or me.  Nothing will bring us more joy than the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that through His Atonement we will all overcome death and return to His presence. The only thing more wonderful than that fact is that not only may we return into God's presence, but that, if we diligently strive to repent and follow the Savior in this life, we will discover then that we will have become like Him. I know that grace, the strengthening and enabling power of Christ's Atonement, has the power to change us for the better as we submit to the will of the Father, especially as we participate in catalyzing experiences such as missions. I know it has changed me forever.

"And also our lives passed away as it were unto us a dream."(Jacob 7:26) This verse rings true for a mission. I couldn't have imagined a more fulfilling experience. A few months ago, a companion asked me what my favorite thing I've learned from my mission is. It didn't take too many seconds for the answer to surface. My favorite thing about the mission is seeing and feeling that God perfectly knows and perfectly loves every single one of His children. I have felt His love for His Cambodian children as I've taught them in their homes and on their streets and in their fields. At times I've felt it so strongly that I have felt that I must be glowing with His wonderful power and light. I now know what Nephi means when he says, "He hath filled my soul with His love, even unto the consuming of my flesh." (2 Nephi 4:21) I just thank my Heavenly Father for letting me come here and show my love for Him by serving and loving my Cambodian brothers and sisters.

"Yea, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a foreign land.Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen." (Alma 26:36-37)

I love y’all so much.

Love Elder Burger

With Seihaa, a guy who was baptized in my time at Chaktomuk. I actually taught him the first time the elders taught him because I was on an exchange way back then too. He is one of the people I have seen change the most through the Atonement. It is a miracle.

My "death card"

Elder Khiev took the machete out of Elder Try's hands yesterday during impromptu service so he could show him how "us ricefield people" cut bark off trees. Hahaha, those two make me bend over laughing like fifty times a day.

Just the view out the Tuolsangkae Elder's study-room window

Guards at the AP's condo building were all passed out when we got there. Gave me some Book of Mormon flashbacks.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Two Year Mark

Elder Khiev eating what he thought was going to be a baby duck egg, but when he cracked her open he found basically a duck ready to hatch. Even he wouldn't actually eat it, haha. It had a fully formed beak, webbed toes, the whole nine yards. (More pictures below)

Hey! First off, Happy Mother's Day Mom! I love you! Thanks for supporting me and praying for me back home.

This last week was good. Lots of meetings and stuff. Tuesday we had MLC in the morning, then Wednesday was English class, Thursday was weekly planning, Friday was zone training, Saturday was an exchange with the Tuk Thlaa elders, and Sunday was stake conference.

This next week ought to be a great one too! We have quarterly interviews scheduled with President Christensen, and we have two exchanges scheduled, one on Friday with the Tuol Sangkae elders and one on Saturday with the AP's.

North zone baby! Took it after zone training friday

Stake conference was awesome. President Eng gave a great talk. He talked about how back in 2013, when he was serving as the district president, he was accepted to go study at BYU Provo to get a master's degree. Everyone told him he should take his family and go. He felt himself that he should go too. Only one person told him to stay; the mission president, President Moon. After fasting and praying about it, he felt that he should stay. So he didn't. After a couple months, the head of the company he worked for came and offered him a position as the general manager of the Cambodian branch of this company. He took the job and knew it was a blessing from God for being obedient. But, as he announced in his talk, that company he is working for is closing it's Cambodian branch this week, so he is now out of a job. He said you might be wondering why God would have had me stay here, to get a job that would be gone in just a couple years. But he said that he trusts in God and that he knows that this is His will. It was an amazing talk that helped show the members that he has problems too. Sometimes I think its easy for a lot of the members to look at successful, well-off people like him and think that "Oh well of course he can follow the commandments. His life is easy!" But that is an unfair shot. The members of the stake love him and the whole stake presidency though and appreciate the wonderful examples of gospel living that they give.

It was kind of weird not translating for stake conference. First time in almost a year and a half that I could just sit back and listen. It's nice to be able to do that.

On exchange in Tuk Thlaa this week went to the famous orphanage in Tuk Thlaa. Tons of members there. And Elder Smith and I made it on a poster there! Lets goooooo!!!

Well this week I'll hit the two-year mark. In two days marks 2 years since I was set apart, and then Saturday will be the official 2 year mark since entering the MTC. Doesn't even seem real to me. Leaves a bit of a weird taste in my mouth and an odd twist in my stomach as it begins to sink in that I don't get to be a missionary forever. I've loved being a missionary and I've given it everything I've had. That feels so good to be able to say. While I'm still light-years away from being perfect, and I still have to strive on a daily basis to overcome many of the same sins and weaknesses that I had before the mission, I've seen the Atonement change my heart and my desires through my mission. How can I ever express my thanks for such an experience?

I love all of y’all! Travel safe Mom and Dad!

Love Elder Burger

Found Elder Kim's CBR in the Tuk Thlaa records while there on exchange. Reading it gave me chills.

Monday, May 2, 2016

On your chest are two names

Elder Try let me borrow his selfie stick to take a pic. I didn't realize they had started praying already when I was taking it, haha

Salutations y’all. Hope all is well out in Texas, (the Republic of...), or in California (if your name is Maddie). My week was great. Lots of contacting . . . again.  This was our highest week contacting together yet though. Up, up and away! The work never stops. We're trying to find as many new investigators as we can. We actually do find a decent amount of investigators, usually about 3 a week, but they're almost exclusively guards at mansions/businesses and its very difficult for them to progress. But we're trying everything we can. We've really been trying to work with the members this transfer, but that also turns out to be tricky too, because about half our active members actually live in other areas (because members somehow can't ever seem to take hold of the "you really should attend your own geographical congregation" concept). We have had some success with less-actives whom we teach though! One named Phiap, who is the son of the first counselor, has come three weeks in a row! And Boret, the less-active son of a less-active recent convert, came this week with his wife! They're a real cute young couple. It was way cool to see them at church.

Elder Try was real sick one day, so we went back to the house so he could sleep for a couple hours. I went to the fridge to grab something to eat and I hear Elder Khiev softly singing the English version of "Did You Think to Pray" in a high falsetto and kneeling on his chair like this. Haha, I thought it was so funny, I had to sneak a pic

Well this is the 103rd week of my mission. I know that thanks to Elder Elieson's and Elder LeNguyen's weekly email titles, haha. Such a weird feeling to be this far. I still feel so weak and inadequate. I can't do anything unless the Lord helps me do it. Man the mission has been a humbling experience. I left thinking I was a pretty good person, but man, have I realized how weak of a servant I really am. I have participated in 50-plus exchanges on my mission, and I come out of each one realizing that there doesn't exist on the face of the earth a weaker servant than me. One of those exchanges was this last week with Elder Slavens. He came with me and Elder Try. He contacts EVERYONE. And I mean EVERYONE. I like to think that I contact everyone I see, but he contacts even beyond that. He was contacting people I usually don't even think to contact, like itinerant construction workers. It was awesome. Way fun exchange.

I've thought a lot the last few weeks about my setting apart blessing by President Spendlove, and the blessing given to me by dad right before I left. I have copies of both of those, and I read them weekly. I have seen every single blessing and promise made to me in those blessings fulfilled. Every last one. Blessings and promises were made which related to things which would have no way of being known by dad and President Spendlove, and they have come true. Those blessings have been a testimony builder to me of the power of the priesthood, and the Spirit which inspires worthy priesthood holders as they lay their hands on the heads of others. My patriarchal blessing is obviously the one that means the most to me though. Passages in it have been illuminated by my mission, so now some things that made no sense to me before seem so clear. I know it came from God.

The flowers outside our room are real pretty (in a real manly kinda way)

The mission is the best. I've had to learn the hard way that perfection isn't attainable by missionaries. Repentance is still necessary. You don't become a perfect immortal being just because you're set apart. But as you serve faithfully you are purified and become a much better person than you were before. I have tried to serve my whole mission in a way that would make y’all proud, and especially my Father in Heaven. I love what Elder Khiev always tells missionaries in our zone, that for two years you must forget yourself. You must serve with all of your heart because you don't represent yourself in the mission. On your chest are two names, and neither of them are yours. One is the name of your ancestors, and the other is your Savior Jesus Christ. I know missions are a divinely provided outlet to show our love for God. I love Him with all my heart. 

Love Elder Burger 

The bike mechanic was wearing a Texas hat yesterday

Monday, April 25, 2016

The sun never sets on the Army of the Lord

Hey guys! Hope all of y’alls weeks went well. My week was pretty good. We're still working as hard as we possibly can, trying our best to follow what the Spirit tell us to do to help this area progress. The problem is that practically the only people we ever can contact are motodopes and guards. All the motodopes live in different areas and all the guards guard at their locations 24/7. They literally work 24/7. They let us come back and teach them but its so hard to help progress or get anywhere. The good people we've taught have dropped us and don't want to meet anymore. But that’s ok, sometimes that’s the way it goes. People have their agency. This week we did get a ton of referrals, which we believe is a direct relation to the contacting we've been doing. Though our contacting hasn't been turning out new investigators like we want it to, it shows our desire to help the area grow to Heavenly Father. I've seen time and time again on my mission that the more effort you put into contacting, the more referrals you magically receive from members and other missionaries.

Drink Cart

It's way fun being with Elder Khiev and Elder Try. Those guys are a walking comedy routine. I die laughing everyday at their back-and-forth dialogue. They tease each other nonstop.

I feel so much gratitude for Heavenly Father helping me learn Khmae. It's so so so weird to me thinking that just 2 short years ago I didn't know a lick. And now, because of God's mercy, I'm fluent and can express myself however I want in Khmae. Isn't God amazing? He doesn't choose the learned and wise and mighty to be His missionaries, He chooses 20 year-olds! He doesn't pick exclusively Harvard Linguistics Ph. D. candidates, He picks run-of-the-mill kids, and they become so fluent in their respective languages at such a speed that institutions around the world ask the Church what in the world they are doing to teach us these languages. I'll give first-hand testimony that it has very little to do with the curriculum at the MTC, where we are taught our languages from 6-9 weeks. It has everything to do with God and the gift of tongues, which He wants to grant to all those who ask for it sincerely and with worthiness. 

I always love the question that the people of Ammonihah sardonically ask as Alma preaches:

"Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?"

Don't the people of the world nowadays ask somewhat of the same thing. "Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than [twenty year-olds] among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?"

A wonderful God! A powerful God! A God who knows that His work is true and that it will fill the earth. A God who uses weak and simple instruments to show that He is the source of this power, that He is the source of this success! All He requires of us weak and simple servants is a desire to serve Him, and then He calls us to the work. He says "sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you." I think the prophecy from D&C is being fulfilled before our eyes: "First let my army become very great, and let it be sanctified before me that it may become fair as the sun, and clear as the moon." How cool is it that the sun never sets on the army of the Lord, which goes forth preaching His gospel in nations throughout the earth, declaring that God lives and His truth is restored! This gospel is true. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. It can sanctify all of us if we'll let it.

Love Elder Burger

Elder Kim went home a couple of weeks ago

I'm so full

Missionaries descending on Burger King

Monday, April 18, 2016

Friends, food and testimony

Me and my friend Puu Mongkol

YES KHMAE NEW YEAR IS OVER!!! Oh thank goodness. To be completely honest, it's the worst. But now people have returned back to Phnom Penh, it is past and all is well. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

The events that President scheduled made it a little better. Tuesday was cleaning day, but we cleaned our apartment real fast so we got back out on the streets proselyting for the last day that we could before Khmae New Year hit in all its glory on Wednesday. 
Wednesday we had a wonderful zone conference with President and Sister Christensen. It was awesome. Focused a lot on how we can better use the Book of Mormon.

On Wednesday Elder Khiev and I also got a new companion! We're now in a threesome. Our new companion is Elder ទ្រី (kinda like tree, but roll the r). He's transferring from Prey Cho! It's been a blast so far serving as a threesome. It's not quite as difficult and awkward as I thought it would be. Threesomes have always seemed like it would be so much harder to proselyte with, but it hasn't been bad. We’re always laughing and having a good time. A sense of humor is a good thing to have in Tuol Kouk.

Thursday we had a city-wide lunch at the Tonle Bassac buffet. Chowed down for a couple hours. It's so fun chatting with everyone about how their areas are going and how life is going for them. Always reassuring to know that we're all going through the same experiences and can completely empathize with each other. We get each other's jokes and stories. It's going to be terrible going back home not being surrounded by people who can perfectly understand what my mission was like. Words can't properly describe what it’s like to serve a mission.

President & Sister Christensen at the buffet lunch

This last week we got two more new investigators! We're finding people, slowly but surely. The trick in Tuol Kouk is to get them to progress. Khmae New Year was a big big stumbling block, because everyone drops off the face of the map for a week. So we'll see how our investigators are doing this week. What's hard about getting people to progress in Tuol Kouk is that almost all our investigators are guards, and guards have the most insane work schedules, and they change work locations all the time. We had a cool experience with this guard named Saran the other day though. Elder Khiev and I had contacted him before Khmae New Year. He said he'd still be in Phnom Penh guarding and so we asked if we could come back Wednesday night and teach him about Jesus Christ. He said sure. So we went back, and at this point we had Elder Try with us too, and we sat down with him, and almost immediately he laid out his need right in front of us! It's not always that easy to see what people's needs are. He said "I read that pamphlet you gave me. As I looked at the pictures of happy families I started shedding tears. I just separated from my wife 3 months ago. I've been wondering what I can do to help bring my family back together." We were pretty blown away. That's as obvious of a need as any. So we taught and testified of the reality of eternal families, and our Father's plan to help our families find happiness. We've taught him twice now. We're going back tonight, although it may be harder to meet with him now that Khmae New Year is over and he is back on active guarding duty.

Yesterday I had such a cool miracle happen! It was 10:30am and we were contacting for a couple hours before lunch. I felt like turning left down one street and we did and we see a guy sitting on his moto about 50 meters away and we bike over to him and as we get close he takes off his sunglasses and says "Elder Burger! Do you remember me?!" I instantly saw that it was Bot, a less-active guy from Pochentong whom I used to go and teach with Elder Johnson all the time in my training! It was so neat to run into him. He's doing good now, he's kinda sorta dating a returned sister missionary who served in England who is in his ward.

Me and my friend Bot

I don't know if y’all remember a couple weeks ago me meeting Puu Mongkol, an investigator from my training. But I kid you not, as I was still talking to Bot, I thought "Man, what if I met Puu Mongkol again right now? Haha, that'd be crazy." I don't know why I thought that, but seriously, not even 30 seconds after I had that thought, a man comes pedaling by on a teeny little bike. It was Puu Mongkol!!! I was still talking with Bot! We started talking with Puu Mongkol as well. Oh my word, miracles happen so often in the mission! So many tender mercies occur, which sometimes don't seem to have any great lasting significance, but are just tender reminders from Heavenly Father that He lives and that He is always lovingly aware of me.

It was really weird at zone conference, because President had the finishing missionaries get up and bare their testimonies. I've watched people do that my whole mission, and have always loved that part of zone conferences. It was really odd to be on the other side. It still hasn't sunk in that my mission will end, even though people constantly tell me it will. President had called the night before and asked me to bear my testimony on how I came to know that Book of Mormon was true. That's something that I've been thinking a lot about this last week. I really think I began to believe in the Book of Mormon as a little kid, dressing up for Family home Evening and acting out the stories. But I remember so clearly when I was nine, I wanted to know if it was true. I decided I wanted to read the Book of Mormon from start to finish. So I did. I remember the night I finished it. I got down on my knees at the base of my bunkbed and I asked, with the innocence of a 9 year old, "Is this really true?" I remember so vividly the feeling of peace and warmth that instantly washed over me. It filled my whole body. I remember that feeling so clearly that I tear up almost every time I recall it, and I feel it again and again every time I study from the scriptures. I remember I ended my prayer and got up from my knees and ran to Mom and Dad and said "I prayed! I know the Book of Mormon is true!". Then I ran back to my room. As I entered back in I remember Maddie getting up from her bed and asking what the fuss was about. I told "I know the Book of Mormon is true." The next morning I remember Dad took me out for tacos as a reward. To this day I can't exactly remember what sort of tacos I got or what they tasted like, but I do remember what the Holy Ghost felt like, as He confirmed to me the truthfulness of the book. Since then my entire testimony has always rested on it. I have occasionally had doubts about Joseph Smith and the Church and even if God really is out there, but I have never doubted the Book of Mormon. Every doubt I've ever had just bounces off it. Because I know the Book of Mormon is true I know that all I have been taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true too. That brings real peace.

I love y’all!

Love Elder Burger

Is this what y'alls Elders' quorum meeting whiteboard looked like after 3rd hour last week?
The view outside the cultural hall windows at the North Stake Center