Monday, February 15, 2016

The Hand of the Lord

Our member Sopheak, who is on the right side of the pic, said the kids he tutors wanted us to go and meet them so they could talk to real life "frenchies".

Hey y’all! Last week I said I had some experiences I wanted to share with y'all. The last couple weeks have really been full of miracles. I'll share some of them with you.

In district meeting a couple weeks ago we talked about chapter 13 in Preach My Gospel, which is about working with the members. I'm not going to lie, it was a little disheartening for our district because we're out here in this little young group in Prey Cho and Elder Paramore/Uhi are in a fairly dysfunctional branch. So before and after the district meeting, for days I was wondering how we could better incorporate members, especially for lessons with investigators. There is one investigator in particular I was thinking of. His name is Puu Jan. We met him a couple of weeks ago. He was our last contact of the day and it was beginning to be dusk and he was sitting on a wood beam in front of this stilted house under construction and we pulled up to talk to him real quick, and he said that he'd be interested in learning, and that actually he had learned with the elders a few times before.

So Puu Jan lives in this area called Kvet Tome, which is near where we live too and out there is just members who are neakmings and are gone riding their bikes selling stuff or working at the factory all day. And since we teach him in the middle of the day when it's hottest and it's far, Puu Dee can't help us either. I really felt like we needed a member help but I didn't know who to get. So we went over and began teaching him. We started off the lesson by answering his question from our last lesson with him, which was a question that he said he was very confused about. He had asked, "Why did God command the Israelites to kill a lamb and put its blood over their doorways in the Bible? Does it have to do anything with Christ being born in a sheep's stable?" Elder Walker and I were blown away by the caliber of the question. We had no idea his understanding and knowledge of Christianity was that deep. I that that has to be the single-most detailed, doctrinally in-depth question I have ever been asked by an investigator. We told him that we'd research it so we could give him a well-thought out answer. We went and found some scriptures in the Book of Mormon which taught how sacrifices were all fulfilled and done away with by the great and last sacrifice, which is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Once he understood that sacrifice was a thing of the past and that Christ's Atonement fulfilled that He just got this look of understanding in his face and goes "Ohhh..." I love seeing that kind of reaction. He said quietly, "I've been wondering that for years. And this book you gave me has the answer." I felt the Spirit in my heart as he said that.

Not even 2 minutes later we were teaching about the importance of the Book of Mormon and how it can answer the questions of the soul (which isn't what we had planned to teach but felt like we should in the moment) and Puu Jan looks over my shoulder and waves someone from the road down. I look behind me and see a lady riding a moto around selling Khmae desserts and, lo and behold, it’s Ming Saophoan, one of the most active members in our little group! I guess they've known each other for a long time (most people out in Prey Cho have). So basically a member fell right out of the sky to help us teach. She told him she knew the Book of Mormon was true. He said, "Yeah, I've been a little hesitant for a while about killing animals in Christianity and in the Bible, but these guys just answered this question I had. I'd been wondering it for years. Then as we left Ming Saophoan was talking to him about who are members in our church nearby. Turns out he knows like half the group! 

Our investigator, Om June

Another miracle was a quiet one, just between me and Heavenly Father. As we were leaving the church after teaching a recent convert Puu Mav, Elder Walker was busy locking the gate and I just sat on my bike for a couple seconds and said a quiet prayer, asking Heavenly Father to guide us in this half an hour we had before our next lesson. Over the last few weeks I had been thinking a lot about what it means to be an instrument in His hands. So in an effort to be an instrument I asked the question and thought for a few seconds about which phum would be the right one to contact in. A few phums went through my mind, but I thought Phum Ompel Thom Khang Tbong felt like the best. But then I began doubting that thought. Another thought came to me: "Ask your companion. He'll confirm which one we should go to." I asked and after a bit of thinking he said lets go to Ompel Thom Khang Tbong.

So we were contacting in that Ompel Thom Khang Tbong for about 10 minutes when, without even thinking about it, we were riding right in front of the house of Pu Long, who is a man Elder Smith and I had contacted a couple times and had even taught once and placed a Book of Mormon with him. He lives in Chaomchau in western Phnom Penh, so he isn't ever really in Prey Cho. But there he was, sitting at the little metal table by his wife's sugarcane juice stand (we actually initially met him when he walked up as were contacting his wife). So we pulled straight in and we started talking to him and he's like, "The elders in Steung Mean Chey never called me!" I was embarrassed, because I had forgotten to give his phone number to them. He told us he had read the first 60 pages of the Book of Mormon and he told his brother who lives with him about it and he started reading it as well, and when his brother left Phnom Penh to go visit his family in some countryside province, he asked if he could take it with him to show his family. So Pu Long gave told us he hadn't been able to read for a few days because of that. We said "No worries, you let him keep that and we'll give you another one right now." He was excited to get another copy. Then I retook his number and promised to send it to the Stung Mean Chey elders ASAP. What an amazing and sacred feeling it always is, to know that you acted as an instrument in hands of God, to be able to feel Him working through you in the moment. Receiving revelation through delayed-time means, such as finding answers in the scriptures or through pondering, is obviously amazing and extremely spiritual, but there's something so thrilling about that live-wire connection you feel between you and God sometimes, when you're inviting someone to learn and words and questions leap instantly to your mouth, when you don't know where to go and you are seemingly guided by the hand of God to the exact right place, when your hands are on someone's head and you can feel God's love for them almost pulsing through you... It doesn't get better than that. 

Those experiences happened a couple weeks ago. This last week had some amazing miracles as well.  Thursday was one of the single greatest days of my mission. I felt so led by the Spirit, and that God truly used Elder Walker and me as instruments in His hands.

After weekly planning and eating at the hang baay down the street, Elder Walker and I went to teach Pu Jan. We roll up and he gets a big smile on his face and throws on a shirt and we sit down, like always, between piles of bricks and tile and other construction materials under the stilt house he's currently building (usually it’s pretty noisy because of the saw cutting tile and hammers pounding and what not. Thursday wasn't an exception, although his little 1.5 year old daughter only threw two temper tantrums instead of ten, which was a blessing). We were teaching about following the prophet and the Ten Commandments, but as we were talking with him he brought up that one of his sons had told his wife last night that "I want to be a man like Dad, not like older brother." Pu Jan told us how his two oldest sons were both real bad kids getting caught up in alcohol and clubs and fights and all that nonsense that goes along with being a bad kid in Cambodia. He said that not even 2 months ago, his oldest son was stabbed to death in Phnom Penh. I immediately thought "My goodness, stabbings are so common here." because just a month and a half ago, Elder Smith and I were teaching this former investigator named Heng Sombat, and he and his family were receiving live news updates on the phone with a family member in Phnom Penh, who was telling them about the stabbing of their nephew behind a club. It took my brain about a minute to both remember that Heng Sombat's wife is Pu Jan's sister and that their nephew who they were getting the shocking updates about on the phone must have been Puu Jan's son. That made it all pretty shocking as I was sitting there with Pu Jan. The first five or six times we had met with him he had never even mentioned it to us. It's amazing all the hurt and pain that are in a person's life that you would never know till they told you. Pu Jan told us how sad it had been to hear the news, how painful it was to deal with the Khmae judicial system as well, since it didn't really try to do anything in terms of trying to find or prosecute his son's killers. He said he could hardly bear having two disobedient sons and he couldn't stand it if he lost another one. He said, "I'm scared. I don't know what to do. I want this other younger son to have a good life, to not walk after his brothers. I'm scared." He asked if we could start teaching his son as well. We said of course, and testified of the power the Book of Mormon has to answer questions of the soul, like "How can I protect my family from all the evil in the world?" We promised that as he continues to diligently read he will find peace and comfort and answers. The Spirit filled the lesson completely.

 As we biked away I felt the assurance of God's nearby presence and gratitude for Him allowing Elder Walker and I to be His mouthpieces. I also started to think about the insanity of it all, in situations like that. I'm only twenty years old after all! I'm still a kid out here, in the middle of nowhere, listening and teaching in a language that's not my own, talking with people about some of the deepest feelings of their hearts. They look to me and my even younger companion for spiritual guidance. People pour out their hearts, telling us some of their deepest hurts, fears, and needs. Women cry as they tell us how their drunk husbands beat them and don't let them come to church, parents distress as their son falls into alcoholism with what sadly sometimes seems the majority of men here, grandparents tell us of the horrors of the genocide as they watched their families slaughtered and starved in front of their eyes, and fathers desperately ask for help, wondering how to protect their surviving children from the evils of an often corrupt and unjust society, so they don't have to endure any more of their children being killed. I'm only twenty years old! What could I ever possibly say?! How could I ever begin to imagine that I know what all these people we meet with are going through?!  How can they think enough of us to look to us for help and guidance in these situations?...  These were things that I pondered afterward. But in the moment I never had to worry. Elder Walker and I have been praying and praying and asking for God to help us and use us as instruments here, to direct our hearts, might, minds, and strength and He has been answering us. He fills our mouths through His Spirit.

Surely that would be the peak of our day, right? No not exactly. We had another wonderful, almost unbelievable experience to top off that day. Let me give some background. 

About 4 weeks ago we received a referral from the sisters in Tuk La'ak, a ward in Phnom Penh, telling us about a great member family in their ward, which had just moved over to within our area's boundaries (because our area out here is huge). We were thrilled because our young group out here needs all the strong active members it can possibly get. They said this family had moved to Prey Totung, which is a big town about 5-6 kilos east of our house, and about 10 kilos east of the church building. They gave us the name of the mom, Ming Yen, and told us she had two kids who are members too. We called the number they gave us about ten times, and it never went through. They called again the next week to follow up, they gave us the number again, and we told them we'd keep trying. Still wouldn't go through. Without a working phone number it would be impossible to find them, since this town Prey Totung is large and too far from the church to attempt any serious searches. It's not like we could just go out there and ask 5,000 people if they've met someone named Yen.

So fast-forward to February 11th. We're riding away from Pu Jan's house after that great lesson to this area we had planned to go contacting in from 2-4 that afternoon. It's called Khum Tong Rong. It's a few kilos to the south of the national road. Nothing but rice fields, sugar palms, wats, and water buffalo out there. We went and first checked out a potential investigator whom we had met a few days earlier. Turns out she wasn't really that interested. Kind of a bummer, because we've been looking high and low and praying for new investigators. We dropped most of ours a couple weeks ago because they weren't progressing and they were taking away from time we could spend finding investigators who are more prepared. So we began contacting, talking to some nice people, none of whom wanted to learn. Shortly after we called Ming Phen, our all-star investigator, who is learning with her husband and two daughters as well. Normally she is a lock-in for appointments but this day she wasn't free, which was very unusual. So that left us with three more open hours till our next lesson. Disappointed, we headed deeper into the villages of Tong Rong, Tramuak, Doong, Tnung, Somroong, and Brasrok. We went house to house, down on winding, serpentine, shaded country lane to another, across rice fields, past a wat with a huge water lily paddy stretching between us and a group of orange-robed monks on the other side, resting on the wats stairs which led down into the paddy. Person after person said they weren't interested, and as we asked all of them if they knew anybody who was a Christian in their village they all said, "No, there's not a single Christian in our phum. We're Khmae, sorry." So we kept going, working our way through the different phums. I remember way vividly passing this rustic looking elementary school where there were some boys playing a game of soccer. The field was nothing but dust, so the soccer ball and the boys feet kicked up jet-streams of dust, perfectly tracing the last 30 seconds of their game in the air. Nature's instant replay.

So as we went we wound up on yet another country lane. As we biked down it, we stopped and looked down a little path covered in dust, looked down, saw a few wooden roofs through the trees, and started biking down it. At the first house we stop at on the path we contacted three people: a kid probably my age, his mom, and his grandma. They didn't want to learn themselves but we asked as we were about to go if they knew any Christians in their village. The grandma said, "There's one family over there (she waves to the southwest) who moved to Phnom Penh and became Christians there. They just moved back here a month or two ago." She said they lived at the end of the road over there in a stilted house with a nice roof. So we tried to head over in that direction, taking a couple cow-cart paths, as Puu Dee so lovingly put it when we took him over the next day, which were covered in powdery dust so deep I thought they might be impassible at first glance. We mistakenly entered one house, it didn't feel right, and we glanced down the path and saw one last house, at the end of the last road in the last phum. Through the trees I could see nothing but rice fields. I couldn't even see any more dense clusters of trees, which are what other phums look like in the distance. Excited to contact some Christians, who are always much more likely learn about the Church, we entered through the bamboo fence and saw a bunch of little kids playing in the dirt, and a few grownups sitting under the house. Almost immediately a few of the kids start yelling "Sister! Sister!" (the English word). I was way caught off guard and Elder Walker and I just looked at each other as this guy in his twenties, who seemed a bit tipsy, says "The sisters are here!" and this neakming walked down from her house. She looked just as confused as I'm sure we did. She corrected all the kids and the guy and told them that boys are called "Elder" not "Sister". She said, "You found me! Did the sisters from Phnom Penh call you or what?" I asked what her name was. She said it was Yen. My mind reeling, I looked over at Elder Walker, shocked, disbelieving smiles growing across our faces as we realized that this was the name of the referral from Tuk La'ak.

It was the most surreal feeling in the moment, because right then we realized how much God had been guiding us. This house was more than 10 kilometers away from Prey Totung, where we were told she was living! We told the neakming that we had received the referral, but they had told us Prey Totung, and all we had was a number which would never go through. We told her all we had been doing was contacting through the phums here, and the people over there told us there were some Christians back here so we decided to come and check it out. She couldn't believe it. She said, "Since I moved here I've been trying to figure out how I could get to church but I could never find the Latter-day Saint one. People always told me to go to the other churches in Prey Totung but I never felt right about that so I never tried it out. I've been praying, asking God that He would send help to guide me to His church out here. He has guided you here to me!" In that moment, with little kids still running around yelling "The sisters are here! The sisters are here!" and her drunk son-in-law tapping me on the shoulder trying to get my attention, the world seemed to stand still. I don't know if I've ever so perfectly felt the immediate presence of Heavenly Father. Ahhh, I wish I could put these feelings into words. Ming Yen came to church yesterday, with three of her kids.

Ahhh I wish I could put those feelings into words, but it never seems to work. I think a tiny verse in Psalms perfectly described that moment though: "Be still, and know that I am God."

Sorry this is a bit long today, but I wanted to tell you about all those experiences! I love God and the Cambodian people.

Love Elder Burger

Sok Heng, our landlord's son, with some crazy roasted monkey thing.
Puu Dee holding a pic of him as a monk 

Caught the Knight Bus back to our area last week. Nice change of pace

From our adventure last p-day in Kratie to see the river dolphins.

Who knew cats really play with their food??? I had no clue. It played with this mouse we fed it for like 5 minutes. It was horrible...

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