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

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