Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - February 16, 2014

Hello again!

First things first, language is weird. Do you ever look at a word and just think, "that's a weird word" or "that looks that right?", "how can such a common word be so strange?" That happens to me pretty frequently. Before the mission, too, but even more so now that English is becoming foreign to me. Today, it was the word "good," which I fear is a sign that I'm going a little bit crazy. But anyhow.

It's hard to say what happened to me this week, but it has been one of the best and most enlightening weeks ever (probably not the first time I've said that...but it's true). I've had so many experiences this week that have helped me regain my passion for missionary work, for which I am grateful beyond words. I'm not entirely sure how the Spirit was still able to touch me, given how hard my heart had grown, but I am so glad the Lord's power has no limits!

One of the greatest blessings was having the Sister Training Leaders come work with us last week. I got to work with Sister Racaza, a Filipina from Mindanao. I was a little sad at first, because I had been hoping to work with Sister Houser (the other new STL over our area), but I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Sister Racaza and learn from her example. She is a great missionary, and a great leader. I'm not sure what really ignited it, but I was thinking a lot on Friday about why I chose to serve a mission in the first place. I thought of the list/essay/letter-to-self I wrote the morning after I met with the bishop to start my papers. I knew that the mission was going to be hard, and I had been told that even before I reported Satan would try to bring me down, so I sat down that morning and wrote all the reasons and things that happened in my life to bring me to the point of serving a mission. Though I don't actually have the paper with me here, I still remember the points I wrote (my testimony of the truthfulness of this Gospel; my desire to help those like my non-member friends find the same joy I have in my life; the spiritual confirmation and answer to my prayers; statements from my patriarchal blessing that, though not specific, could be related to missionary work). As I was talking/reviewing our day with Sister Racaza on Friday night, she asked me what I felt my strengths and weaknesses are. Strengths were hard to come up with, but I realized that I really do know the Gospel well, and I love it with all my heart. My biggest weakness, I realized, is that I've been failing to show that love to those that we teach. I don't know if it's because of my fear/timidness, or just being so self-centered and focused on my own perceived problems that I've kind of been "going through the motions", without my heart really being in the work. I remembered what my district mates and I talked about in the MTC, how the Lord called US to serve this mission, and He wants US to serve, not to be someone else. We are here because we have something unique to offer. Sister Racaza helped me rediscover what it means to FORGET OURSELVES and give everything to this, the Lord's work.

Somehow, whatever happened on Friday within my own heart/head has changed everything about my life right now. I suddenly feel like myself again. I am happy. :) I wake up in the morning excited about being a missionary and grateful for another day to serve. I go to bed feeling content and peaceful. Obedience feels natural again, rather than a struggle. Mostly, though, I have seen a huge difference in our work. We taught a referral on Saturday at a member's house, and I felt impressed to share with her that one of the biggest reasons that inspired me to serve a mission was because I saw the difference in my life and the lives of my non-member friends--that there was a joy I felt that they seemed unable to find--and that is why we as members give referrals. So our friends can taste of the same joy we have. I bore my testimony of the truth of this Gospel, and how I know that the Lord loves her and that is why He placed the member family in her life. It was a simple testimony on my part, just speaking from the heart in broken Tagalog, but as I looked into her nearly-teary eyes I could see that the Spirit was teaching her so much more than what I was saying. :) It was an incredible and humbling experience to finally feel like an instrument in the Lord's hands again. It's what I've been missing since I got here to Morong, and I'm just so grateful it's back.

My Ether 12:27 project  (turning my Finding skills into a strength) is still a work in progress, but I've been trying to make a more concentrated effort to OYM people, especially on the jeepneys we ride every day. Though I can't say if it's made much of a difference (so far I've only been able to OYM people from other areas, mostly less-actives), it's at least been a blessing to me to build my confidence and help me realize/remember the joy of sharing this beautiful gospel. I'm starting to see people again for their potential, but am aware now more than ever that they can't reach that potential if I don't INVITE THEM to hear the Gospel. As Christ Himself said: "wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and FEW THERE BE THAT FIND IT" (see 3 Nephi 14:13-14 and Matt 7:13-14, emphasis added). The path to Eternal Life isn't one we stumble upon by accident. Thus, we as missionaries and members are so important in this work. If we don't "invite others to come unto Christ" (find the true Gospel), how are they going to accomplish it on their own?

I know this is long already, but I want to share an observation from my personal study this morning. It comes from John 13. I was reading scriptures from PMG and verses 34-35 were suggested, but I kept reading until the end of the chapter. In this section of scripture, Peter asks where Christ is going, hoping to go with Him, but is informed that he must follow in the footsteps of his Master only after Christ's mission is completed. Peter is disappointed and asks why he can't be included--he is not afraid of danger or even death. He is willing, he says, to give his life for his Master. Christ then answers, "wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice" (John 13:38). At first, a plain reading of this sounds accusatory and condemning--as though the Lord does not believe Peter's claim to loyalty and devotion, and offers prophetic evidence to support it. However, when reading the two verses together (37 and 38), in a more tender and heartfelt way (as I imagine in my head that Christ's voice would be), we can see a beautiful teaching moment here.
Peter is ready to give up everything (he has already left behind his job, home, and family) to follow Christ, even if it means suffering pains of the flesh and physical death. Though he did not know everything, Peter understood enough to know that this life is merely a prelude to the Eternal Glory we will receive if we prove faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Savior responded to this sincere demonstration of faith with a deeper and more difficult proposition: Peter was willing to die for the Lord, but was he willing to do something perhaps even more difficult--to do what was necessary for him to LIVE to lead the Church after Christ was gone, even if it meant denying his Lord and Savior? "Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?" Christ asks. Or in other words, "will you give up everything, your whole self, including YOUR WILL and how YOU think things should be, in order to serve Me and fulfill the will of My Father?" If the answer be yes, Christ then explains what is necessary: "The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice." I am sure it was not an easy assignment to accept, but I (and the entire ancient Christian world, probably) am grateful that Peter had the faith to fulfill it.
There's a quote from West Wing that I only partly remember and don't know the true source. It's about heroes and martyrs and goes something like, "A martyr is someone who would rather suffer death than renounce his beliefs....A hero is willing to die for his [beliefs], but he would much rather live for it."
Peter truly was a hero, and an example to all of us of what obedience really is. It's not just doing what we feel is right or good, but it's about our willingness to do WHATEVER the Lord asks of us, in HIS way, even if we don't like or understand the request.

I feel like everything I am reading and learning this transfer is just teaching me and building my testimony of the importance of obedience. I really feel like that's the major point of this life--to learn to align our will with the Father's will. Next week will have another thought about obedience and blessings. That's all for now though. :)

I love you all SO MUCH and hope you are doing well! Thank you for the updates and emails, even though I don't get a chance to respond to them all, and most especially for your thoughts and prayers. Till next Monday! Take care!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

P.S. The quote from the subject is a FANTASTIC song by Hilary Weeks that you should look up if you get a chance. :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - February 9, 2014

Oh hey there!
Nice to see you again! How's it going?
It's been a while, eh?
I'm doing well! You know, just living life, one day at a time. :)
Actually, the Philippines is great! Every day is an adventure when you're on a mission. You see so many miracles and get to experience so many wonderful things, yet still somehow become more and more aware of your shortcomings every day. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that's probably a big part of why we get sent out at 18/19/20/21 years old. There's not many better places to find yourself than in a foreign environment surrounded by strangers, trying to share a message about Eternal Salvation.

Yep, I pretty much think I hit the jackpot when I was assigned to labor here in the Quezon City mission.  Time really does fly when you're having fun--and when there's no clear change in the seasons. They say that summer here is March to June, so we're hitting the end of the "cool season" right now. Sister Medina keeps saying every day when we walk outside that summer is here already (because it's hot), but I'm reluctant to believe her, because I think summer is going to be the season that I've been dreading since I got my mission call--where it's just hot, all the time, even at night. Sister Pope described it as being the time when she can't ever remember a time that she wasn't sweaty. :P Haha at least the Lord gave me 10 months to get used the climate, so hopefully I'll be more prepared when it hits.

The work is going well. Actually, I don't really know. Sometimes I feel like things are going great, and sometimes I feel like "what are we even doing here?". But I think that's just how missionary work goes. At the very least, I am excited because our zone leaders (Elder Argyle still, and Elder Hall, who I just met but who is super great and also from Utah) have designed some legit zone goals for us for this transfer and next transfer. I've also decided to apply Ether 12:27 and take my biggest missionary weakness (Finding) and turn it into a strength! ...We'll see how it goes. ;)

It's Fiesta time here in Rizal. The cities around here have been celebrating for the past few weeks (they seem to all go right in a row, with a different city every weekend). Fiesta, though I'm not super knowledgeable about its origins, is a Catholic tradition apparently that has become a national one here in the Philippines. Basically for all of us foreigners/non-Catholics (and even the Catholics nowadays) it just means FREE FOOD. Families make tons of food, and all their friends are invited to come eat and visit. It really is kind of crazy. The traffic is ridiculous, because people come from all the neighboring cities to join in, and I swear there is a party at every 3rd or 4th house. Yesterday was the fiesta for Morong, so we went and had lunch at a member's house in Sister Dudas' area. Next weekend is the fiesta for Cardona (our area). I'm not sure if I should be excited or not that we are probably going to get fed at every single appointment we go to (hopefully we'll at least be able to teach). :P I do kind of wish we had Fiestas in America though. I think it would be a super fun experience for anyone who isn't a missionary. :)

I have a new favorite object lesson/spiritual thought I think. It actually comes from the "I am a Child of God" wristbands that Mom sent for Christmas. I started wearing one of the white ones every day and noticed after a couple of weeks that when we came home at night, the wristband actually was glow-in-the-dark. Initially I was just pumped because I love glow-in-the-dark things. Over time, though, I started to think about it in a more metaphorical sense and realized that it's an awesome symbol for us in our own lives.
First, let's consider the "technology" of things that glow in the dark. Why do they glow? Of course, science never was my specialty, but as far as I understand, it's because they absorb the light energy from the sun or light source they are exposed to that "charges" them. When they are then surrounded by darkness, the light energy they absorbed previously remains, causing them to "glow." Over time, the energy disperses and the glow fades, until it is again exposed to light and can reabsorb the requisite energy.
As for us, in our lives, we absorb Light every time we choose to follow our Savior and keep His commandments. Every time we study our scriptures, pray, attend church to partake of His sacrament, serve someone, sing a hymn, offer a listening ear or shoulder to cry on, etc. we are becoming more like our Savior, and His Light more fully becomes a part of us. Christ himself stated: "I give unto you to be the light of this people....therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (3 Nephi 12:14,16). We absorb Light through righteous living so that we can radiate it to others who have not yet found the Source. In a world of Darkness, we radiate the Light of Truth, and can help others to find their way to a better, happier, more peaceful life. Just like my bracelet, though, we must continually seek to recharge ourselves spiritually. We can't expect our Light to stay strong and vibrant if we fail do those things that bring the Savior into our lives. We must stay diligent and faithful and press forward patiently every day. :)

I've also been pondering this week about the Lord's love for us. In looking for a spiritual thought last week, I came across a scripture I had marked in 2 Nephi 26. What really stood out to me as I reread it was verse 24: "[The Lord] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation." Then as I was reading 3 Nephi 12:42-45 during my 15 Minutes to Conversion study, I was struck again by how loving our Father is, that He gives blessings so freely to us, even to those who curse His name or claim they don't believe in Him. He is still there, watching over them always. I know that there is nothing that we could ever do to "deserve" the love that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ give to us, yet it still amazes me how perfectly aware and caring they are to every single one of us, even despite our many weaknesses. I am coming to feel for myself the reality of Paul's claim that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

I know that this Gospel is true. It is real. This work is so important--I just want every one to come to feel about our Savior the way that I have come to feel about Him and His Atonement. The Philippines Quezon City Mission (PQCM) has been renamed by our mission leadership as the Philippines Quality Conversion Mission. It stemmed from the initiative to help our investigators be better prepared for the covenants they will make at Baptism, to help them become more established in the Church and the Gospel, so hopefully they don't fall away like so many others here have. I suspect though, that the Leadership here was also aware that along with the changes that have been made to improve our teaching, we as missionaries are being blessed as well to receive a true Quality Conversion.

I love you all! I pray for you, and think of you often! Thank you for all your love, prayers, and support!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - Pictures 5

There's a garden/farm next door to one of our investigators (JB--he's so great! If I get time, I'll include a story about him this week), and Sister Medina really wanted some of these veggies (I can't remember what they're called--they're okay but not super delicious unless they're in soup). We just asked for 30p (about 75 cents) worth, which in a grocery store isn't a lot, but when it's fresh from the farm it turns out that's a ton! So we were blessed to be able to give a lot away in the appointments that followed.

This cat looks just like Jerry when he was a kitten. It makes me happy every time we visit these members. He's so cute. :)

One of the funnest things about the Philippines is the way they feel about chickens. All the roosters (and even most hens) here either have leashes (like this one) or little individual/transportable cages. The people here take such good care of the chickens. They pick them up, pet them, carry them around, etc. It's like a pet almost, but with purpose. Mom and Dad: I think you would like the Filipino attitude toward farm animals. They're so respectful and caring. Sister Dudas (Filipina) especially loves chickens. Which was pretty fun because Sister Tingey (American) did not at all. Or at least she didn't think they should be picked up and held, as much as Sister Dudas tried to convince her otherwise. :P

Sister Franks in the Philippines - February 2, 2014

Happy P-day everyone!! :)

So I'm pretty low on time again (sorry!!), but there are a couple of things I really want to share from my week this week.

Firstly, I am learning more and more each day about the Savior and the power of His Atonement in our lives. I was studying the atonement and crucifixion specifically last week, and more than ever it has hit me what an incredible sacrifice it was. I think growing up, when I learned about the Atonement, I knew it intellectually and understood it on a base level. I even studied at BYU about the infinite-ness of the Atonement and was awestruck by the weight of all the Christ had to bear--even more than we can comprehend. Having never really experienced any major trials though, or endured any severe pain, I couldn't actually relate at all to what His suffering might have been like. Only here on the mission have I experienced true heartache, frustration, loneliness, and despair. Yet it has been the most beautiful and eye-opening experience for me as I came to realize my own nothingness in relation to that of the Savior. My own personal trials are just a fraction of what He went through, and yet He persevered. He continued and pressed forward, when He could have just given up. He stayed true to the Mission He was called to, and did not falter. He had perfect faith and complete confidence in Himself and His Purpose. He understood our Heavenly Father's plan, and His role in it. He was human, he felt things just as we feel them (hunger, thirst, fatigue), and he was tempted. But He did not let the desires of His flesh overpower His commitment to follow the will of the Father in all things.
I've always known and taught and testified that Christ is our perfect example, but now that statement has come to mean so much more to me. Because He is our perfect example, we must follow His demonstration. When hard times come, we must simply press forward, remembering our purpose and exercising our faith in the Lord. That is what Enduring to the End is all about. :)

Our investigators are doing well here. I especially love seeing how the Book of Mormon works miracles in the lives of those who truly embrace it. One of our investigators last week, J.B., almost as soon as I greeted him, eagerly went to grab the Book of Mormon we had given him in our last appointment and brought it to me saying "This book is like magic. Every time I touch it, something good happens to me." He then continued to tell me about multiple blessings he had received, and how even though he doesn't like to read, he read the testimonies of the witnesses and committed to keep reading. :)

Finally, I am coming more and more to understand and appreciate my purpose here as a missionary. We recite each morning that "our purpose is to help others come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel, through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the holy ghost, and enduring to the end." Last week, we were visiting with a less-active who has diabetes and is so thin and frail. Her faith is strong, but looking at her, I can see that she is tired and struggling. My heart broke for her as we sat there talking, and I just wished that Christ could come to her and make right all the things that are painful for her in her life. In a sort of slap-in-the-face way, the Spirit reminded me that that is exactly what I have been called to do as a missionary. I am a representative of our Savior Jesus Christ, and I am here to help people find their way to Him. To open their eyes and reach out their hands and accept the love and help that He is just waiting to give them, if they'll only accept it.

This work is real. I feel so humbled to be a part of it. More and more each day I realize how important we are as missionaries and members, but only in the sense that we are the instruments the Lord is using. We must be in tune with His Will if anything real is going to be accomplished.

I hope you all have/had a wonderful week!! I love and miss you and pray for you often (sometimes I forget...I'm sorry!). Thank you for all your love and emails and prayers and thoughts!

Happy February!!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

Sister Franks in the Philippines - Pictures 4

This is the Andres' baptism. They are the greatest!

 Here's a karabaw, and our district leader, Elder Anderson (from Canada), at the farm we did service at on Saturday. The Philippines is pretty fantastic. :)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - January 27, 2014

Hello again!!

Quick correction from my last email. It was requested that I clarify, for those that aren't familiar, what "po" means. It doesn't really mean anything, actually, which is why it's the hardest thing for me to eliminate from my vocabulary. It's just a term that we use here (coming from Tagalog of course) to show respect. In English, you could try to translate it as "sir" or "ma'am" (i.e. "good morning, sir"), but that's not 100% accurate either. So as our Tagalog lesson for today, we will just let it suffice to say that "po" doesn't actually have a meaning, so if/when I use it, you can just read it as if it's silent. ;)

This week has been strange, but really good for me. Sister Medina spent 3 days last week in Quezon City for medical tests (she's okay--don't worry), so I had a temporary companion for those 3 days and it was definitely and interesting and difficult experience. I never thought I would have a testimony of the importance of working with the companion we are assigned to, but I feel like I discovered this week that, since all our companionships are inspired, we have an added power with us as we work that seems to be absent when we work with someone else's companion. It's hard to explain, but it's like it goes beyond just having a unity in your message or being comfortable with someone else's teaching style. It's something else altogether, like the authority or priesthood power that rests upon something the Lord has designed. It's kind of incredible actually. And I am so happy that Sister Medina is back.

We had a hard time, actually, when she first got back on Friday night, but the experience that followed was probably the most incredible I've experienced here. One of those things that I suspect I will always remember as a kind of turning point in my life. As you all know (or should by now), I'm kind of a super prideful person. I've been praying for humility all transfer, along with patience and love, but I've just been having the hardest time getting there. On Saturday, I was pretty frustrated with Sister Medina. I felt like there were just so many things built up that I didn't even know what it was that was bothering me, or what to try to tell her. Mostly (as is my way, for those that know me), I just didn't want to talk about it. She's super sweet and tried asking if I was upset with her, but I just said no. Finally, before we were going to head out to go to our district service project, she just hugged me and apologized for what had happened on Friday and explained her view of it. At first I was like "it's fine, it's fine" because I just wanted it to be over, but then the Lord stepped in and softened my heart and I really started listening to her and realized I had a lot to apologize for as well. It's like my eyes were finally opened, and it hit me so hard in that moment that I have been a huge part of the problem. I thought that I had been doing all I could to help our companionship, but it turns out I was doing everything I could to change my actions, but without changing my heart. I wish I could explain the feeling of those few moments; it's like I could literally feel my heart melt and all the walls I'd built just crumble. Basically, the lesson I learned this week is one of true humility. Of having the strength to be the first one to apologize, even when you don't think you need to. I now have a newfound, genuine love for Sister Medina, and more respect for her than I ever thought I would. It's transfer week, but we are both staying, and I am honestly so grateful. I know we still have a lot to learn from each other, but mostly I am just happy because we finally have the Spirit back in our companionship (I've kind of been on a high for the past two days because I missed it so much), and I know that we are going to be able to accomplish so much for the Lord this transfer. Which is good, because this area deserves all that we can give it! It is so amazing!

This week has strengthened my testimony of the Atonement more than anything else in my whole life. I've come to know very personally what it means to rely 100% on the Savior for your strength and motivation and just finding the desire to move forward when everything in you just wants to give up. I've discovered how powerful it is to realize that Christ literally knows everything that we are feeling, but He overcame it so that we could be able to as well, with His help. I've also learned/noticed again how hard the Atonement really was to endure, so far beyond anything we can even comprehend--physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually-- and yet Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was willing to subject Himself to that pain and suffering just because He loves me and He wants to help me make it back to live with Him and my Heavenly Father. "I stand all amazed" is an understatement for the way I am coming to feel about my Savior's love. I really have no words to express it. I'm just so grateful to have this opportunity to serve Him and invite others to partake of this precious gift and experience the peace that comes from allowing Him into our hearts and lives.

Also, President Revillo asked me after the Christmas Conference if I would consider writing a song for our mission, and he followed up about it in our Zone Interviews last Tuesday. Thankfully, due to having the Spirit back, I was able to finish what I'd started working on back in San Isidro, and I'm actually really happy with it. I sang it in our district meeting yesterday and everyone liked it (which was a relief), so I sent the lyrics to President today. I still need to work on piano for it, but we'll see what he says. This is pretty much the scariest thing I've ever done--considering how awkward/self-conscious I am about my songs. I think that's another good side-effect of being on a mission though. I'm learned to get over it.

I'll send some pictures today too, if I have time. I hope you all have a great week!! I love you!! Also, don't forget to wish my beautiful mother a Happy Birthday today, if you get a chance. :)

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks