Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - April 6, 2014

Happy April to you all!!!

This has been another wonderful week, and I am so filled with gratitude every time I stop to think about my life as a missionary and how blessed I am (sorry if that sounds a little like bragging, but it's just the truth)! Sister McCarthy got a call last week about a new sister being emergency transferred into our area. We will no longer be a threesome, but our area will split and we will have two sets of two. She was originally supposed to be with one of the other sisters, but they both claimed not to know the area well enough, so on Friday we were informed that I will actually be her new companion. I'm excited to meet her tomorrow, and just a little bit sad that I won't get to finish the transfer with Sister Strebel. I love both her and Sister McCarthy so much, but Sister Strebel has honestly been the biggest blessing in my life as far as missionaries and companions go. I feel like we are both in similar places as far as our spiritual knowledge and experiences go (and worldly experiences too, I guess, since she is just 4 days younger than me), so we have both been able to learn so much from each other, especially during companionship study when we share our insights from personal study. It is like I get to have two personal studies every day! :) She gains different insights than I would in studying the same topic, and her insights always inspire me and show me a new way of thinking. I have truly come to love and respect her, both as a wonderful missionary and just a super fun person. I really just hope that I can be able to be the same kind of inspiration to my new companion (even though I don't know anything about her yet--even her name). :)

With the new sister coming, though, we had to decide how to split our area. For a number of reasons, we decided that I and the new sister will be staying here in Morong and the outskirts of Cardona (the next city), while the other sisters will be focusing on Cardona (where the majority of our current investigators live). Since we won't have very many investigators now, there will be a lot of time for finding in the areas here that are closer to the chapel. Remember how I said before that I wanted to make my Finding weakness into a strength? I am excited now for the time and opportunity to actually do that! It's been hard since I got here, because our time is so full of teaching current investigators, we haven't had much time (or motivation) to go finding. We have still come across a lot of new investigators in the past 3 months, but mostly just by "accident" (i.e. Heavenly Father's help). I am sad to have to give up the investigators and recent converts I have come to truly love, but it will be fun, I think, to explore new areas that missionaries haven't been to for a long time and see who the Lord has been preparing for the beautiful message of the Restoration!! :)

The subject for this email comes from my experiences this week (and throughout my mission) with baklas. When I was thinking about what I wanted to share this week, I was talking with Sister Strebel and asking how I might be able to describe "bakla" to a foreigner, and we decided there really isn't a good way. I will try to anyway though, because the moral of the story is something really powerful to me and something I think can be beneficial to every one of us.
A bakla, here in the Philippines, is basically a man who feels like he is a woman trapped in a man's body. In America, they might be referred to as a transvestite, cross-dresser, or just gay, but in my experience here, I don't feel like any of those is necessarily an accurate description. But it is at least a start. A lot of people here tend to look down on baklas, and certainly see them as abnormal (not unlike the culture I grew up with in America, unfortunately), but Sister Strebel and I have noted that baklas still seem to be the happiest people around. We aren't sure if it is something inherent, or just the fact that they don't care what anyone else thinks and so aren't burned by the weight of trying to "fit in". At any rate, though, they are SO KIND, and surprisingly religiously inclined, and we just love them (though Sister McCarthy is still a little uncomfortable)!
27-year-old Erwin, one of my favorite investigators, is bakla. It is interesting, actually, because the missionaries who first met and started teaching him used to refer to him as "sister" on his teaching record (where we write what was taught in each visit). In the 8 months or so that he has been taught, however, he has stopped wearing makeup and dressing like a female (though he still has beautiful, long hair that all the sisters envy :P). He has read the entire Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, and has now started over again. He also has a desire now to be baptized, even though he understands that it will mean giving up all homosexual behavior and accepting his divinely inherited gender. He is living the gospel and completely gets all the doctrine that we teach. He even has great insights of his own that he shares sometimes when we come visit. The one giant obstacle he seems to be facing is just coming to church!
He actually came to church a few times last fall, when the family was first taught, but (according to the teaching record) was offended by a member who made some really hurtful comments, and has been too shy to come again. In the time I have been here, we have been trying so hard to help him have the courage to come back to church, and he finally came yesterday!! We (as missionaries) were so excited!! We even had a fellowshipper lined up to take him to the Priesthood class (though they only stayed for sacrament and sunday week, daw, they will stay for all 3 hours).
The thing that broke my heart, though, is that after sacrament meeting the member who had offended him before came up to me (thankfully outside of anyone else's hearing) and with a complaint about our investigator being bakla (how even though he wasn't dressed like a girl, she could still tell he was bakla and how he needs to change). I did my best to try to stay positive and just inform her that he is actually amazing and has made tons of progress and is now living the gospel, hoping to maybe help her see beyond her initial judgments. It is just so sad to me, because Erwin is one of the most amazing people I have been able to teach, and he has so much to add to this branch and the church, if he only felt welcomed and comfortable enough to share it.
This is probably just another experience though, that Heavenly Father has blessed me with (instead of the chastisement I deserve) because I've made the same kinds of mistakes in my own pre-mission life. I think I am supposed to learn not to be so quick to judge people, whether by their appearance or mannerisms, or even first or second or third impressions. I am learning and realizing here that every single person is a beloved son or daughter of God, and He wants to welcome every single one of them into His Kingdom here on earth--His Church. If we are the hands of Christ here on Earth, ours are the hands that should reach out to welcome the lost, the lonely, the poor, the proud--kahit sino. Every one of us needs love and friendship and encouragement from our brothers and sisters. We may not know everyone's story, especially from the start, but that is why it is so important to just reach out in love, to try to see others for who they really are--the way that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ see them.
I know with my whole heart that it is true, "you can't judge a book by its cover." Whether it's a poor young girl living in a squatters area with just one raggedy dress, a depressed teenager who sought solace in drugs and alcohol, or a tender-hearted, insecure twenty-something who is trying to rearrange his life in order to live in harmony with the truths of a gospel he has just discovered. Jesus Christ loves each of us, with our own mess of imperfections, and He is here to help us while we figure it all out. He is endlessly merciful, patient, and loving. I really believe that with His help, we can do the same. :)

I love this Gospel with all my heart. I love my Savior Jesus Christ. I KNOW He lives!! I feel His presence in my life every single day, and I see it reflected in the eyes of those that I see and meet and talk to. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's true church restored on earth today and that as we live the principles of the Gospel, we will begin to develop these Christlike attributes. And as we come to experience these changes in our lives, as we radiate our Savior's love to those around us, we will be blessed with a peace and joy beyond any that we could independently imagine. :)

That is all I have time for today....I hope this wasn't too heavy. I didn't mean it to be. I hope you all have a fantastic week!! I love you so so so so much!!! :) And I do miss you, even though I don't usually admit it. ;) Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers! Time to go save some souls! :D

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - March 31, 2014

Hello again!!

Wow. It is hard to believe that another week had already passed, and it is almost April!! Hope you're all gearing up for tomorrow--I wish I were clever enough to have come up with a trick to celebrate, but sadly, it'll have to wait till next year. :P I feel like every day time is going more and more quickly, and I am loving life as a missionary even more. This week has been so full of wonderful missionary experiences (both the joyful and stressful kind, but all rewarding). I love Morong so so much, and I love my companions! Sister Strebel is seriously becoming one of my favorite sisters here. It's weird actually now to think that there was a time before we were friends! I feel like we've just known each other forever. I am learning so much from both her and Sister McCarthy though, and realizing a lot about myself.

One fun tidbit: Sister Avila (my "niece" in the mission) is our kabahay now too, and she is working on learning English (all the native missionaries are required to learn English for their language study). She actually knows a lot already, grammatically, but the pronunciation is the hardest! We have been trying to help her, and Sister Strebel and I are pretty much just coming to realize that ENGLISH IS HARD!! Like really, we have the craziest vowel sounds and out-of-nowhere pronunciations that don't make any sense at all. Yet it's so intuitive to us. I feel so bad for everyone who tries to learn English as a second language. I really think it's true how they say it is the hardest second language to master. But she is so cute and working so hard on her accent. Sometimes when we are just sitting around she will, out of nowhere, start saying "terrific. terrific. winner. winner." (the "i" sound is hard--it sounds like "terrefic" or "weener"). I really admire her diligence--she is improving a lot!!

Also, the sister training leaders came to work with us last week and I finally got to work with Sister Houser! We were ka-district for a while when I was in San Isidro, so I was pretty pumped to see her again, and especially to work with her, because she is a sister that I have always really admired. We had a great day of work together, and serving with her was so inspiring to me. I am so impressed by her diligence in learning and using Tagalog. I remember that she struggled a lot with the language when I served with her before, but she is really skilled now, and I can tell that it is because she has worked hard to learn and improve. That was a good motivation for me, because I haven't been the most diligent in trying to improve my language skills (because I haven't really struggled like other missionaries--Tagalog for some reason came fairly easy to me). It was nice to be reminded, though, of how I really need to keep working on my language skills, because I should probably be a lot more fluent now than I actually am. :P

It feels like since the transfer has started, people have just been coming out of the woodwork here. We have a new key indicator we are supposed to report each week for how many people we OYM (that accept a return appointment), but honestly I feel like other people tend to OYM us before we even get a chance to try talking to them. I don't know if it is just a blessing of being foreigners here in the province, or just that we have the Spirit so much more than before (and people notice), but it is so fun (and just a little overwhelming). We have been trying really hard to meet with all our investigators and figure out which ones are really interested to progress towards baptisms, and which aren't quite prepared yet, so we can make time for all the new investigators we have been finding.
There is one new family (the Raya family) which we are really hoping will progress. We met them one day when we got lost trying to find a member's house, and ended up having a really good discussion with them (they were just sitting around in the street and invited us to sit and talk with them--so of course we accepted!). They had a lot of good questions, and we were able to share our beliefs about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and a little bit about the Restoration. We left a pamphlet with them and they invited us to come back for their son's birthday party. The husband/father said he is an apostle in their church, but their church is small (just a meetinghouse type, rather than a church). He was really nice though, and interested in learning about our beliefs. And he says he had lots of friends he can introduce us to. :) We stopped by for the birthday party and came to realize that the family is actually pretty mayaman (rich). They own a piggery, along with some other kind of farm work, and pork is huge here, so they are pretty well set. Their house (which we really only saw the outside of) is beautiful. And huge. The best part, though, is that the husband said he read the pamphlet! We weren't able to sit down with them and discuss it (they were busy with the party), but we were able to talk to the 23-year-old son a bit, and the wife introduced us to one of her friends and we now have a return appointment with her as well.
It's kind of crazy, but I am coming to really feel the importance of this work, and seeing how the Lord truly is hastening it. Every day that we go out to work just seems to fly by. I am blown away actually, because we see and meet and teach and work with so many people every week, and yet each one of them is special to me. Every lesson is personal to me and I want to do all that I possibly can to help them progress and come to accept this Gospel. I know this Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is true. It is real. It really is everything that we need in life, and without it, no matter what substitute we may be able to find, there will always be something missing. WE ARE SO BLESSED!!!! We really are the luckiest, that we have this beautiful knowledge, and we get to share it with the world. :D

Also....I made bagels last week! It was a success, too. So just another reason this week was fantastic (and delicious). Today I am going to make egg rolls (but mini sized because they don't have the right wrappers so we are improvising). :) I really can't get over how much I love our new house, especially the kitchen.

I'm almost out of time, but I want to tell you really quickly about Michael. He is the husband of a recent convert (Cathleen) and has been an investigator for a while. At first, he couldn't come to church because he worked on Sundays. Then he was able to change his schedule so he only worked during the week, then lost his job so he is now a trike driver. He wants to be baptized, and be sealed in the temple with his wife and kids, but he has a pretty strong addiction to cigarettes. We have been trying really hard to help and encourage him though, to help him quit so he can prepare to be baptized. In the time I was here with Sister Medina, he cut down from 30/day to only 14/day (it really is amazing to me that he could smoke that much and still be alive...). We talked to him about the Book of Mormon and how it can help him, and prayer and church and everything that will help him, but he still wasn't making much progress. Last week, though, we were able to have a good conversation/lesson about goals and faith and the stepping stones to accomplishing our goals. He has a goal to be baptized and quit smoking, so we invited him to set a date by which he would be completely cigarette free (4 weeks before his baptism), and to work to smoke just one less cigarette each day until he could reach that. When we met with him on Saturday, he was just one behind his goal. I still am amazed at the progress he is making though! He came to church the week before last, but only stayed for Sacrament meeting. Yesterday, they came and he stayed for the whole 3 hours! It was so exciting for us, but I think it meant even more to his wife, who has such a strong testimony, but with 3 kids (one of them being a newborn), it's hard for her to come to church by herself. It's just beautiful to see them starting to apply everything and really live the Gospel, and see how much happier they are as a result. :)

That's all for now. I just am so so happy, and so excited for another fantastic week of serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Lord's Kingdom here on earth! Thank you so much for all your emails--I am sorry I don't have time to respond to them individually. Your love and thoughts and support mean a lot to me, though. I love you all so much! Hope you have a great week, and enjoy getting to hear from our living prophet and apostles at General Conference this weekend (don't send too many spoilers--we don't get it till next week)!

Love always,
Sister Franks

Sister Franks in the Philippines - March 23, 2014

Hello po!! Happy Monday!! :)

This week has been wonderful!!! A lot has happened, and we unfortunately weren't able to work as much as we are used to (we moved to a new apartment--which is absolutely fantastic--and have all been battling sickness throughout the week), but I feel like the work we were able to accomplish was probably some of the most meaningful and productive that I have experienced in my mission. This transfer is so great, and I have already come to recognize changes in myself and my views of this work. I have come to truly love each of our investigators (even ones I would have been ready to drop before), and am becoming so invested in and eager for their spiritual welfare. Our planning has become so much more than just scheduling lessons--we actually talk about the needs of our investigators again and how we can help them. I just feel like everything is starting to fit into the Lord's way of doing things, rather than us imperfect humans trying to accomplish things on our own (which we all know never really works out). Consequently, though the number of lessons we were able to teach may be down, the progression of our investigators is amazing; I think largely due to them seeing and feeling how much we care for them and from the Spirit they have been able to feel. I just love being a missionary!!

Highlights from the week:
I think a few weeks ago I told you about Laurence, a new investigator who was a school adviser to one of our branch missionaries. We gave him a Book of Mormon in our last (second) lesson with him two weeks ago. We weren't able to see him last week, but we were able to go back yesterday and teach again. I was nervous at first, because he had said he really wanted to come to church, but hadn't come either Sunday (last week or yesterday), and I was a little scared that maybe he had lost interest. When we went to his house though, I was surprised and glad that he welcomed us cheerily. We sat down and started talking and quickly found out that he has been facing a lot of trials in the past couple of weeks. He lost his cell phone (or rather, his cousin took it and lost it), his brother was in a motorcycle accident and then developed an allergy to the medicine in the hospital, and his friends, who frequently ask money from him, have decided that they aren't interested to be friends anymore if he won't keep giving them money. Needless to say, he has had a lot on his mind. Despite all that has happened, though, he has still been reading the Book of Mormon. He read each of the sections in the beginning (the introduction, the explanations, the testimonies) multiple times, because he said he didn't understand when he first read and he really wanted to get everything straight. Listening to him talk, I could hear behind his words the testimony he had been developing of the Restoration. I asked him if he believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and he said yes, followed by an interesting and impressive explanation of all his thoughts and feelings that have led him to believe so. He really respects Joseph Smith as the man that the Lord selected to restore the fullness of the Gospel to the earth once again, and he has felt the Spirit as he has read from the Book of Mormon (he read from Galatians 5:22 and said that those are the things he has felt which helped him realize this is true). We talked about trials, and how we all face them, especially when we start to make the effort to come closer to Christ. He said that he knows that, and he has been thinking a lot about it, and how he knows (the Spirit told him) that even though a lot is happening, he can handle it.  We invited him to act on the testimony he has been receiving and prepare to be baptized on May 17. He readily accepted, and just kept saying how grateful he is that we are here as the Lord's instruments to help people come to know the truth.
Pretty much, I just feel like Brother Laurence is a treasure. He is so prepared, and so ready to accept this Gospel. I know that he is probably going to face a lot more trials as he continues to progress, and I just hope we and the branch members here can help support and encourage him to hold fast to his faith. I truly feel like he has the potential to be a great leader in the church here. He says that he also wants to become an instrument in the Lord's hands, like Joseph Smith was, and like we are. We testified that he can, and that is exactly what our Heavenly Father wants for him. :)

We have also been teaching Tatay Sulpicio, the husband of a sweet, adorable recent convert (Nanay Presentacion). She is 80 and he is 82. Neither of them can see very well, and Tatay has a hard time hearing, so they both speak kind of loud and forcefully (at least to our cushioned foreigner's pretty normal here to be loud). Tatay has A LOT of questions, but accepted an invitation back in February to prepare to be baptized. Due to our own neglect and scheduling conflicts and probably a lot of the Lord's Hand in things, we haven't been able to teach him enough for him to reach the original date that we set, but we have been focusing more on him since the new transfer started and we all love going there. I used to think that Tatay's questions were just him trying to "test" us and our knowledge--just to see if we would be able to answer, not because he was really interested. Since our promise to him, though, was that we would answer his questions, I started writing them down, and was able to see the points in the doctrine and the missionary lessons that he hasn't come to understand yet (even though it may have been taught). So we went through and started to reteach some things, and I discovered, as we were in a lesson and he interrupted to ask a follow-up question, that his questions really are genuine. He may have a rough-sounding voice, which makes them sound insincere, but he honestly just wants to know (things like: where do people go after they die? What kind of god is God? Is there hope for us to see peace on earth?). He is searching for the truth, for answers to his lifelong questions, and we have been sent here to deliver to him just that: a gospel of answers.
I used to dread our appointments there, but now I look forward to them. He has come to church 3 times, and even though he probably can't hear anything that goes on there, he still always has a smile, and when we ask him about his experience he just says it was fun/happy and the people are so nice. He is the cutest little old man (still works as a guard for the barangay--"neighborhood"--even though I can't imagine him being able to fight off anyone if there was some kind of problem) and I am so grateful to be one small means of helping him come closer to his Savior.

Things in our companionship are getting better. We are getting better/more used to teaching together, and really, I just love my life. :) Sister Strebel and Sister McCarthy are very different, but I love them both, and we have a lot of fun! They are both tall, too, which is entertaining, because people love to comment on how I look like a little kid now when we walk around. :P Also, no pictures today, but I LOVE OUR NEW HOUSE!!!! It is beautiful, and there is so much more spirit there than I ever felt in our old apartment! I really just don't think life can get much better. :D

That's all I have time for now! I hope you all have an incredible week!! I love you!!!!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

Sister Franks in the Philippines - March 16, 2014

Hello again!

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all! This is, hands down, the strangest St. Patrick's Day I have ever experienced. I don't even have anything green to least not proselyting clothes. You'd think for having so many alcoholics here, the Philippines would have caught on to this holiday, but so far--nothing.

This week has been so crazy, but so good. Having foreigner companions is actually FANTASTIC. It is so much fun. The only hard part is being in a threesome. Just think of how hard it is to unify yourself with ONE person who has had different experiences and has different thoughts and attitudes and teaching styles, and then triple it (because there are three of of those interplays going on, and then an additional of all 3 working together. I am actually really grateful for this companionship, though, because I know that it is inspired and it is exactly what our area needs right now. We all have different strengths, and I can already see how each of them are making a positive impact on those around us.
Back in the MTC, I knew Sister Strebel somewhat, but we were never super close because she was in our sister district. In just the past 5 days though, I have already come to love her so much!! She is so much cooler and easier to relate to than I remembered (or maybe we're just getting better at connecting to people). Right from day 0 (before transfers) I knew we were going to be a good team, and it has been confirmed and reconfirmed each day. Sister McCarthy is just one transfer behind us, and she hasn't quite adjusted to Sister Strebel and I, but I can see that she is a great missionary and all her desires and expectations (though somewhat lofty) really help to motivate us and help us become the missionaries and companionship we really need to be. She is so cute, though, because she has such a soft voice and perfect Australian accent, and every time she talks she just sounds so refined, and her body language matches it. It is precious. I just feel like she's a princess here with us barbaric Americans, and feel a little bad for her. :P She is really sweet and young though (just a touch naive, but in a good way), and I can see a lot of myself in her.

I think this week has been another turning point for me. If our mission (18 months) is a lifespan, I think I'm finally overcoming my midlife crisis and starting to feel like an adult. There has been a lot of stress/crises happening with the Andres family that Sister Medina used to be in charge of, which have now fallen to me. It's not really a stress I was looking for, but I guess most things we go through aren't, and we can't just run away from the hardships in life. Having a pretty stable understanding of how the Church is supposed to run, though, and what is and isn't our responsibility as missionaries, the only thing I could really think to do was turn to our branch leadership for help. At first, it didn't seem like that was going to work out, and I had a brief period of desperately considering every possible means by which we could theoretically help them. Ultimately though, the branch president and one of his counselors were able to go visit last night and offer some help and support. When I found out this morning, I literally had no words to describe my gratitude to these faithful leaders, to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and for the beautiful organization that exists within this Church. I'm so glad that I was able to function within my given role as a missionary and help things come about in the proper way that they should.

From the Teachings of President Joseph Fielding Smith (I mean it, he is pretty much my favorite prophet now; something about the way he teaches just seems to connect with me and lead to even more revelation):
On Repentance--
"There is no place in Zion for the willful sinner...we should not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, any more than the Lord can do so."
"If we really understood and could feel, even to a small degree, the love and gracious willingness on the part of Jesus Christ to suffer for our sins we would be willing to repent of all our transgressions and serve him."
"God is not going to save every man and woman in the celestial kingdom. If you want to get there, and you have failings, if you are committing sins, IF YOU ARE BREAKING COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD AND YOU KNOW IT, IT IS A GOOD TIME RIGHT NOW TO REPENT AND REFORM, and not get the idea that is it such a little thing that the Lord will forgive you, just a few stripes, just a little punishment and we will be forgiven; for you may find yourself cast out, if you insist and persist in such a course. Procratination, as it may be applied to gospel principles, is the thief of eternal life" (emphasis added because I feel like this is the description of what the first quote calls a "willful sinner"-- when we know we should or shouldn't be doing something, but we don't want to change).
"The Lord intends that men shall be happy--that is his purpose--but men refuse to be happy and make themselves miserable, because they think their ways are better than God's ways."
"Repentance is a gift of God....It is not so easy for some people to repent, but the gift of repentance of faith will be given to every man who will seek for it. I've learned from my own experience that when you want to change, really want to change, you can do it."

These thoughts have really stuck with me over the past couple of weeks. I have never been really good at repentance. I'm one of those who has had the attitude that repentance is a sort of "punishment" for our wrongdoing. More and more I am realizing, though, that it isn't that at all. It truly is a HEALING. It is a means by which we become stronger, more refined, more pure and holy, more like our Savior. Though we all have shortcomings (as Paul says, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God"), we have been blessed with the gift of repentance, the opportunity to make right all our wrongs. We are able to learn from them and try harder the next time to be better, rather than be sentenced to eternal woe. Personally, I am realizing that I need repentance so much more than I ever thought. If we want to live with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, we need to become like them. And we all know that is a long process, so we had better start now. Little by little, as we constantly strive to follow the perfect example we have been given, as we seek to eliminate all our little weaknesses and "favorite sins", we will see the power of the Atonement really start to work in our lives and change our natures, so that obedience is no longer a struggle, but a habit and a joy.
I know that this really is the purpose of the Atonement, and how we apply it in our personal lives. The more we come to understand and love our Savior, the more we realize what a beautiful thing repentance truly is.

I really love this Gospel so much. I honestly cannot tell you how grateful and blessed I feel to be serving my Lord as one of His missionaries. I have come to love my Savior SO much in the short 10 months since I was set apart. I know that this work is real, and miracles surround us every day. :)

I love you all! I hope you have a great week!!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

P.S. We are getting a new apartment!! Well, we actually have it already, but we aren't moving until tomorrow (so I need to pack!). I am so excited. I will send you pictures next week, so you can see that it really is quite an upgrade!

Sister Franks in the Philippines - March 10, 2014

Hello again!!

Happy Transfer-Week Tuesday!!! I have a story to tell you all before I share the exciting news of whether I am transferring or not....
Last Friday, we had our mission tour. Elder Echo Hawk of the Area Presidency here (yes, the same one that spoke in conference...pretty much a celebrity. :P Though really just super chill and kind and fun and real--we're so blessed!) came and spoke to us. It was an incredible zone conference (our second of the transfer which was great!), and I learned too much to take time to share it all. Afterward, though, I was talking to some of my friends/fellow missionaries/sisters from my batch, and I made a comment about whether I was ever going to be given a foreign companion (even Sister Campbell and Sister Cutia, who are from USA, are Filipina by birth). Well, Heavenly Father must have been listening because I am now getting TWO! Sister McCarthy (from Australia, just two transfers younger than us) and Sister Strebel (from my zone in the MTC) are going to be my new companions here in Morong! I really can't say how I excited I am! I have a feeling I'm going to need to be the "Senior Companion" (i.e. step up my leadership skills) now, since I'm the only one who has been in province areas her whole mission, so I'm the most experienced with Tagalog, but I really am just super happy and blessed that I already know both of them so I feel like we will be able to hit the ground running and really do a lot of good work this transfer! I never thought I would want to be in a threesome, but even that is something I am looking forward to. :) Pretty much I just feel like I'm super spoiled and, once again, don't know what I do to be so blessed (I really don't deserve it).
In other news, too, Sister Cutia is the new Sister Training Leader!!!! :D :D :D She's assigned in the city so I still won't get to see or work with her, but I am so pumped because she is seriously one of the greatest missionaries I know and she is going to be able to help so many sisters there (and maybe our areas will coincide eventually if she or I get transferred next transfer)! It's still winter for most of you so I can use this analogy, but you know how sometimes when you walk outside in the winter and the sun reflects off the snow and it halfway blinds you? That's what I feel like my life is like right now, only instead of light it's blessings and happiness that I am being overwhelmed with.

In stories and experiences: I have learned a lot this week about my role as a missionary and how beautiful and powerful this Gospel is, and how we so much just need to learn how to get out of the way of the Spirit and let it work through us to touch the hearts of those we meet. One of my most treasured investigators this week is a 32 year old man named Lorence. He was an adviser/teacher of one of our recent converts/branch missionaries a few years ago. It turns out they didn't get along very well back then, because the recent convert (Paul) was pretty rebellious and a handful to deal with. Paul was working with us last Sunday though, and spotted his adviser as we were walking between appointments. I was on splits with Jenny Polinar (who is actually my "lola" or grandmother here on the mission--she's Elder Argyle's "nanay"--but went home last January before I got here and is now living with her sister and brother-in-law in our branch) and we noticed that Paul semi-greeted a man across the street from us as we walked. We stopped and went back to talk to him, not knowing anything about their past. We were blessed to have the chance to invite him to hear our message and he agreed to let us come to his house and share a short message. We just did basic get-to-know-you and introduced our purpose as missionaries and why we are here and testified of the power of the Gospel to change his life just as it has changed Paul's life (who is now preparing to serve a mission). He shared about his history of looking into and studying other religions and his thoughts on why there are so many religions today. We were happy to leave with him a pamphlet about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and brief overview of what he would learn there (about Heavenly Father's pattern of calling prophets to reveal His Gospel because of His love for each of us and our families; how Christ Himself taught His Gospel and established His church here on the earth, including calling apostles to lead and giving them authority to baptize and receive revelation on behalf of the church after He was gone; how after Christ's death and the death of the apostles, precious truths and doctrines were lost and/or changed, and the Priesthood Authority necessary to perform sacred ordinances such as baptism were lost; and how, because of Heavenly Father's love for us and desire for us to know the true Gospel, He restored His Gospel and His true church through a young man named Joseph Smith who was called as a prophet, and how we have evidence given to us by which we can know if all of this is true--the Book of Mormon). He committed to read the pamphlet, and said he would try to come to church because he wants to know what our services are like.
On Sunday morning, we texted to remind and invite him again to come to church. He responded that he had been very sick for the past few days and wouldn't be able to come to church, though he wanted us to still come teach him if possible. We gladly agreed. On splits once again with a different branch missionary (Sundays are our busiest days so we always try to get members to do splits with us if possible to fit everyone in...or at least as many as possible), I was a little surprised, but delighted, when we got to his house and discovered that he really was sick. He'd been having awful headaches, and I could tell he was still in pain, but he pushed through it (he said he'd even forced himself to reread the pamphlet on Saturday night and Sunday morning, even though it hurt). He was still eager to have us teach, though, and sad that he had missed church. We started the lesson and quickly discovered that he had not only read the pamphlet, but knew everything by heart. He explained to us what he learned with surprising accuracy. We clarified a few details about the Restoration and shared about the Book of Mormon and invited him to read and pray and find out for himself if it is true. It's hard to really put into words, but I honestly feel like he is one of those "golden investigators" who the Lord places in our lives (if we just open our eyes to notice it) who has been so prepared and just waiting to be taught the truth. He understands and seems to believe our message intellectually, and agreed when he receives a spiritual confirmation to be baptized. I'm mostly just so grateful that Jenny was in tune with the Spirit enough to recognize his potential even before I did. I'm so excited to see his progress in the coming weeks.

In spiritual thoughts:
There are so many I want to share from what I learned this week, but I think I'm just going to share one or two thoughts about repentance, because that's what I have been learning the most.
There's a story that was told by our district president before I got here to Morong. It's about a man who died, and when he got to judgement, he was given two options. He could choose to go to heaven, or to go to hell. He was informed though, that he would have the chance to spend one day in each before deciding. He opted to spend the first day in hell (to get it over with). When he got there, he was surprised at what he found. It was filled with laughter and cheering and groups of his friends all hanging out together and partying and having a great time just playing games and drinking and dancing and whatnot. The day flew by and was over before he knew it! He thought to himself, "what in the world?" (in Tagalog: "ano ba yan?")--hell wasn't bad at all!
The next day, he went to heaven. Heaven was great too: beautiful and peaceful and serene. Everyone there was happy and smiling and enjoying life, but not in the same way as the day before. Heaven was quiet, but thoroughly pleasant, and the day there flew by just as quickly. It was over before he knew it.
At the end of day 2, the man was returned to judgement and asked to choose where he wanted to spend the rest of eternity. He thought over his experiences. He had loved both days, and didn't want to have to choose. Knowing he could only have one though, he finally opted for hell. His decision was granted and off he went.
He was shocked when the door opened and he stepped into hell. It was not the hell he remembered! Everything was loud, but not the laughter and cheering of before. The air was full of screams and crying and the man couldn't find his friends anywhere--just surrounded by tears and agony and heartache. Confused, he caught sight of Satan (the man in charge) and asked what had happened to the hell he remembered.
"Yesterday," he said, "there were games and laughter and everyone was happy and having a good time! What happened?"
"Yesterday," Satan replied," "we were recruiting you."
There is a powerful statement in Alma 41:10 that often gets taken too lightly: "wickedness," Alma warns his son, "never was happiness." Though sometimes to our natural and carnal eyes, it might seem like we can go against the Lord and still find happiness and peace and contentment in life, ultimately we will come to find that the happiness we tasted was only fleeting, and we are left with the bitter aftertaste that sin always leaves. Fortuntately, we are still here on earth. We haven't yet cast our final decision of where we want to spend eternity. There is still time for us to choose heaven, to choose to follow our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ and receive the eternal blessings of peace and comfort and eternal joy that will never be changed or relinquished.
I have been reading the teachings of President Joseph Fielding Smith (my new favorite prophet I think) but I don't have time to share everything I've learned from him, so it'll have to wait.
I just pray that each of us will take advantage of the opportunity that has been granted to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repent. Follow Christ. Be blessed. :)

I love you all! Have a great week!!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

Sister Franks in the Philippines - March 2, 2014

Hello again!!!

There are so many things I want to tell you all, and I only have a short amount of time so this may sound a bit rushed, but I'm going to try to fit it all in! :) This week has been so amazing, but pretty much everything has to do with the same cast of incredible people that I am falling in love with here in Morong.

Pictures will be in separate emails because I have too much to say to fit it all in one.

1) Service Project
So, starting the first Sunday they decided to come to church (as you may remember), Bro. Andres lost his job as a jeepney driver. He is still jobless over 3 months later, so they are being evicted from the house they were renting. Through a lot of miracles and the kindness of members both here and in Canada donating their time and money, we've been able to start a renovation on the "house" of Bro. Andres' parents to add a second floor. The house before was just a single room, so the first project was to dig out a hole for the CR (toilet). As you can see in the pictures, it turned out to be a rather large task, with everything from dirt to large rocks to wet, heavy clay being dug up. Fortunately, we had elders that were able to come help and they turned out to be a lot more efficient....
The project turned out to be a gateway to many more miracles. Just a few weeks ago, Bro. Andres' mother, who we met before but didn't want to listen to our message, starting asking questions, and most especially wanted to know when we would be having another temple tour. We were able to start teaching her, and her daughter (Bro. Andres' older sister). Through the service project, we have also been able to work with and get to know their older brother, who lives next-door/in the other half of the house. My testimony of service has grown so much. What started out as a project to help our recent converts (who we just love more than anything--they are so amazing), turned out to be the key to opening the way to share the Gospel with the rest of the family. It really is true: "people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."

2) Temple Tour
We were able to get permission from President Revillo to have another temple tour on Friday (the day after our service project). We were blessed to be able to coordinate for a group of recent converts (including the Andres) to go do baptisms for the dead inside the temple at the same time as we gave our investigators a tour of the temple grounds.  We had one part member family that was able to come (a recent convert, her husband who is investigating, and their children) as well as Bro. Andres' mother. Sister Sikotilani had forgotten to bring her temple recommend, and mine was lost with my wallet, so we foreigners were left outside to do the tour while the two Filipinas went inside to help with the baptisms. I was a little sad because I knew it meant I was going to be the one leading the tour (Sister Sikotilani is great, but she's not quite as fluent in Tagalog, and she's not a very take-charge person, so the responsibility kind of fell to me). It turned out okay though.
When we were asking for permission, President Revillo asked if we thought it would really be a good use of our time. We explained about Nanay Andres being really interested in the temple, and how we thought it would be a big help to her in helping her want to progress. As we were on the tour, she was so attentive. At times, I felt like she was the only one actually listening, but I was actually completely okay with it. By the end, I halfway gave up on the tour-guide thing and just bore my testimony, talking to everyone but looking into her eyes. It occurred to me, though, that is probably the closest I've come to having genuine Christlike feelings. I thought to myself, "if Nanay is the only reason we had this temple tour, if she's the only one who got anything out of it, it would still be 100% worth it." Of course, I hope it was a good experience for all who went (and I think it was), but for me, Nanay was the highlight. Afterward, she told me she felt so happy being there at the temple, and she kept saying how it was just so beautiful. The spirit was so strong and I have come to feel for her (and their family) the most genuine love I have ever felt for anyone.

3) FHE with the Johnsons
The temple trip was even more impactful than we realized, I think, because the next day, we went to have an FHE in Antipolo with Elder and Sister Johnson (the senior missionary couple we get to work with). It was originally just for the Andres and Nanay and the sister (our investigators), but nearly everyone came! Nanay and Tatay and 3 of the 4 siblings came, with their kids. It was a full house, but SO MUCH FUN!!!! I have never laughed so much or so genuinely since I got here to the mission. It honestly felt like being at a Clark family reunion. Sister Johnson made a good mix of American food (spaghetti and garlic bread and brownies) and Filipino food for those who weren't adventurous enough to try the foreign dishes. We had a good lesson, with both spirit and laughter, and played some games. It was the perfect bonding experience for us all and we all came away full and happy and full of love.

I was warned (shout out to Bro. Mansfield) that being in the Philippines would teach me to love with my whole heart. I was reluctant to believe it...yet it's happening. I honestly didn't know I could love anyone this much. When I got here, I used to think it would be hard to love so completely when I am so different from the people here (different appearance, different culture, different world views), but the longer I am here to harder it is for me to see our differences. I forget that I'm a foreigner living a world away from everything I grew up with. I just love these people so much, and I know that the blessing I was given in my setting apart is true--I will be heartbroken when the time comes to leave these people I have grown to love so much.

I guess the moral of my story this week is just the miracle of love and service. I know that serving others is the BEST way to develop love for them. And all the little things we do to develop that love, and the little things we do as a result of that love, are more than just actions. They shape our character and help up become who we are meant to be. They help us become more like our Savior and our Father in Heaven.

We have to go to our zone activity now, so that's all I have time for today. I just want to let you know that I love this Gospel. I love my Savior, and I am SO SO grateful for this opportunity to serve Him, and try to become just a little more of who He wants me to be.

I love you all!! Sorry I don't have time to share the rest of my week. I hope you have a great week!!!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

Sister Franks in the Philippines - February 23, 2014

Maligayang Lunes sa inyong lahat!

This week has been a turning point in my mission! Not just me, actually, but all the sisters in my batch. :P I officially have fewer days ahead of me in the mission than behind. In some ways, it's encouraging, because the past 9 months have gone so fast, and if I've survived the 1st half of the mission so (relatively) painlessly, there's no reason I can't make it through the 2nd half. ;) But mostly it's just scary, like everyone says, because you realize how short our time here really is, and how much you really need to step it up and become the missionary you hope to be--the one the Lord needs you to be--ASAP, so you can accomplish all you are supposed to before your ministerial certificate expires and you get kicked out of the country. As one of my MTC Zone Leaders/District-mates, Elder Thurman, shared in his last email though, our growth and changes as missionaries and children of God really is the most important and lasting effect of our service. So if nothing else, I am glad to know that my time here has been extremely successful in that respect! I will definitely not come home the same as I was when I left. Hopefully in a good way. :)

This week has had a lot of highlights and interesting experiences! Firstly, on Tuesday, we were teaching one of my favorite investigators, Maybeline. She is 19 and lives with her sister and niece and nephew (she's their caretaker when the sister is at work). We met her my second week here in Morong (January 2) when we went tracting and she was running the "tindahan"/food stand of her next door neighbor. We OYMed them both and it turns out the neighbor is actually a long-time less-active. Though not much has happened with the LA (her husband isn't very open to us, so she only gets to sit in on lessons when he's gone, which is next to never), Maybeline and her sister, Jonah, and a few other of their family and friends have been more than eager to listen to us. We gave her a Book of Mormon last Saturday and she was almost overwhelmed with excitement to read it. When we came back on Tuesday, she had already finished the introduction and had a question for us! We had a great lesson with them about the Plan of Salvation, but really the greatest/most fun part for me was that another of her friends stopped by and joined us. His name is Robert, and he's also happens to be deaf (our 3rd deaf investigator). We did some quick introductions and then Sister Medina continued teaching the lesson in Tagalog, and I taught a super simplified version in broken sign language. It was one of the coolest experiences ever though, because he was so open to the message. I asked him if he prays, and he said no. I asked if he wanted to pray, and he said yes, so I wrote him a little message saying "God understands sign language. :) Or just your thoughts if you are praying alone"  with the steps for prayer. We didn't have any English pamphlets with us (they are better with English because ASL is what they learn in school), but I gave him a For The Strength of Youth pamphlet with our phone number. I'm so excited to see him again tomorrow!
We also got to see Kim (the deaf girl who was referred to us by the Elders) and her friend Kim (#2) on Friday. They were busy with a school project they needed to finish so we weren't able to teach again, but we met the husband of Kim (#2). His name is RJ and got to BRT with him a little bit. He can hear, but also knows sign language, so he ended up being a bigger help than the member we brought with us, who only knows about as much sign language as I do. The downside is that he works a lot, so isn't really ever available to be taught. But he's okay with us teaching his wife, so that's promising!
I'm starting to feel like this may be a reason that I am here at this time. Even though I can't say I know sign language (it's pretty rough honestly--I'm grateful they are so patient with us), I know enough to be able to communicate the basic principles of the Gospel and help them (hopefully) feel the Spirit. I think they feel something, too, because they are always happy to see us when we come. It is so cool to see how the Lord can work through even the smallest means to accomplish His work (Alma 37:6-7). I think this experience has also brought a new meaning to the promise that Christ can take our weaknesses (even the smallest piece of knowledge or talent that we have) and make it into a strength (us it to bless our lives and the lives of others).

We also had Zone Conference last week and I got to see Sister Cutia!!!!! For the first time since October when we were both newly called trainers. It was so fun, and I really didn't realize how much I love/missed her until I saw her again and we started talking! I just really hope we get to serve together sometime here in the field (even if it's just when she becomes a Sister Training Leader and comes on exchanges with us). I feel like we have so much more potential to do good now that we kind of know what's actually going on with missionary work. :) That's just a selfish desire though. I know there are a lot of other sisters who deserve to have her as a companion too, and learn from her.

Saturday was an interesting day for us. We were invited to a wedding in Teresa (the neighboring branch where our zone leaders and district leader are). 3 weddings, actually, and 6 baptisms (all 3 couples were baptized). Unfortunately, we weren't able to go, because we had 2 baptisms in our own branch at the same time. (I know it might sound like we take it lightly, but honestly, I do realize how difficult it is to help an investigator progress all the way to baptism, the work here in our zone really just is amazing). We got to bring one of our investigators to the baptism (the girlfriend of the member that we taught last week), and to teach her afterward about the Priesthood and the power and blessing of being a part of the true church of Jesus Christ, the very same church that Jesus Christ Himself established when He was here on the earth. Though nothing really profound, it was a good lesson, and I was inspired/taught at least, so I know the Spirit was there. We next went with a group of branch members to the viewing/memorial service for a member who had passed away. She was very old, and not able to come to church because she couldn't walk and basically had no strength, but she was a very faithful woman. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet or talk with her, but as I looked at her at the viewing, she just looked so peaceful and content. I know that she was blessed to have an understanding of the Plan of Salvation, and was prepared for all that the Lord had in store for her when she passed.
The service was an interesting one. It was held in the house of their next door neighbor (their house--just one room--is too small to fit both the coffin and more than 5 or 6 people). A couple of members from the branch, along with Sister Medina, and our new branch president, shared some thoughts about the Plan of Salvation and the life of Sister Tejada. After, one of her daughter's spoke (a long time less-active as well) and just cried and said thank you and sorry and the things she wished she could have said to her mother before she passed. It was an enlightening moment for me to realize what a blessing it is for us to know our Heavenly Father's Plan for us. To know why we are here on this earth, why hard things happen to us in our lives, why there is so much pain and suffering and even death, and where we will go after we die. We are so blessed to understand that this life is just one tiny step in our eternal journey to become like our Father in Heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a sobering experience, but deeply spiritual and humbling for me, sitting there with all the knowledge I've taken for granted my whole life, surrounded by so many people whose hearts were aching because they didn't have the comfort of that eternal perspective.

I know that this Gospel is true. It is so amazing. I'm almost out of time, so the thought I promised last week about obedience and blessings will have to be postponed again. (Sorry!) I promise it's good though. ;)

Also--just a favor or two to ask, if you have time/interest.
1) Let me know what you hope for more from these emails (stories, pix, spiritual thoughts, cultural experiences) because I run out of time a lot, so it'd be good to know which to prioritize. Otherwise I'll just keep rotating them every so often.
2) I didn't bring any pictures with me when I left, so all I have are the ones that have been sent to me. It'd be nice to have some more pix of family and friends, though, so if you'd like to just pick out a favorite picture of us together and email it to me, that would be swell. :) Or if we don't have any pix together, just a favorite picture of yourself, so can have something to show people when I talk about you. ;) Just if you get a chance. Thanks!

Hope you all have a FABULOUS week!! I love and miss and pray for you every day!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

P.S. Mom and Dad and Zach and Jen-- I got your packages...I just keep forgetting to tell you. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!! You are the best!!!!