Monday, May 5, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - April 21, 2014

Happy Transfer Week, everyone!! :)

This has been an interesting and exciting week. Firstly, I met with President Revillo on Friday to get an interview for a new temple recommend (I kept forgetting to ask him when I saw him last transfer and at zone interviews). It is so nice to have one again! Even though we don't get to have temple trip p-days here in Morong, it's just nice having a recommend in my possession. :)
Anyhow, during my interview with President, he was talking to me about our area and confided that it would not be staying a foursome (i.e. it's not going to split, sadly), but that one of our threesome would be transferred--mostly like me, daw--and Sister Tardio would just stay here until she gets her new call and goes back to Davao. I have to say, I am starting to see the wisdom in not telling us transfer announcements until the day before, because knowing 5 days in advance was SO HARD! It's so hard to be invested in investigators and members when you know you are probably just going to have to leave them behind. :/ But even despite that, I still find myself loving everyone and not wanting to leave. Especially a less-active returned missionary that we met yesterday who (though not quite sober yet) was deeply touched that the Lord had brought us to him (it was purely chance that we happened to find him). He said he knows he needs to and he really wants to come back to church, and he begged us to help him. I've never felt such an immediate love for anyone, as I looked into his teary eyes and could see the pain residing there. He loves the Gospel, but he was offended by a member/leader once upon a time and can't find it in himself to forgive him. Talking with him yesterday, I realized more than ever before how true it is: "holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies." This once-faithful, former-branch president, has been spiritually decaying for the past 4+ years, and has nothing but sorrow and guilt to show for it. My heart honestly goes out to him. I'm so sad I won't be here to see and help him progress and come back to his Savior, and this church, that are just waiting with open arms.
So yes. I am being transferred once again! It's hard to believe that's possible, because I still feel like I just got here!! The past 4 months are really just a blur. But I am going to Taytay, which is still here in Rizal (the "province"), though Taytay is a lot more like the city daw. I have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving Morong (I still feel like there's so much potential for me to do good here!), but I am excited at the same time. My new companion will be Sister Morrell, who I have only met once, but she is actually the sister that my trainer (Sister Campbell) trained the transfer right before me. So she's like my big sister here on the mission. :) And I have only heard great things about her! The one time I met her, she was really nice, so that is good. I at least don't have to worry about getting along with my companion. I don't know anything about the area yet, but I am sure I will love it, because that's already what I have decided, and attitude is everything, right? :D

Just a few stories/thoughts for you from my last week here in Morong:
1) I met my first ever Filipino celebrity last week. We were told by one of the members from a different branch (the wife of a counsel in the mission presidency) to go find and check up a man named "Rafael Pacheco." We found his address in our branch directory, and last Tuesday, Sister Tardio and I went to find him. We found his "house" (in quotations, because that is an understatement. It says "art foundation" on the outside gate, and it really more like an abandoned resort--it's huge!), but the gate was locked and there's no doorbell or anything. Some neighbor girls were helping us out though, and they said it's unlocked earlier in the day, so we decided to come back on Thursday. When we returned, we were blessed to find that the gate was indeed unlocked, but still closed. We awkwardly debated with each other whether it would be appropriate to just let ourselves in, and ultimately decided that was the only option because no one can hear us from the gate (which is pretty far from the house). So we pushed the gate open and apprehensively walked in. It only took about 30-40 feet for both Sister Tardio and I to start questioning our choice--we both felt very uneasy--and as we continued walking, we were less-than-excited to be greeted by a very vocal dog running toward us. We both froze and grabbed each other's arm. Not knowing what else to do, I silently said a prayer pleading for help and protection, and Sister Tardio finally just spoke to the dog and asked: "where's your master? Go get him! Tell him we're here!" Haha it was a perfect ice breaker, because the only thing going through my mind at the time was how I was going to explain to President and Sister Revillo about breaking into someone's house and then getting outselves bitten by their dog. Fortunately, one of the caretakers of the house came up just a few moments later and we inquired about the member we were looking for. He invited us in and everything was okay after that. EXCEPT I had no idea who we were there to see! All I knew was his name--which, as a foreigner, meant nothing to me! And I gathered by the place where he lives that he's pretty rich. But when we finally met him and started talking to him and the woman who takes care of him (he's 81, and was sick for a while, though he's a lot stronger now), I started to realize that HE IS ACTUALLY SUPER FAMOUS. Like, Sister Tardio knew him from TV, being all over the news and what-not. It turns out he's like one of the most famous Filipino painters ever. He's mostly a finger painter (though the art is beautiful and you'd never guess he didn't use a brush), but he also does sculptures and architecture and was in a couple of movies when he was younger. It was kind of a really surreal experience actually. The coolest/craziest thing for me, though, was that even as I came to recognize that I was sitting in the presence of a celebrity, the only thing that I could think about what how to help him come back to a knowledge of his Savior and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ (he didn't even remember that he had been baptized, or anything about the Church). Far from being star-struck, I felt like we were possibly the only people in the world, besides his family, that could really see past his fame and treat him as our brother--a beloved child of our loving Father in Heaven.
We gave him a pamphlet about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has a picture of Christ and the lost sheep on the front, and he was so touched. He loved the picture! He kept saying "thank you for this beautiful picture!" Haha we had to inform him that there were actually words on the inside that his caretaker should read to him, along with the pictures. :) He was so nice though, and said we are welcome to come back anytime! I am sad I won't be able to return for the follow-up, but I feel so blessed to have had that experience. I LOVE BEING A MISSIONARY!!!!

2) I don't know if you remember Laurence, the school adviser/teacher that I met while on splits last transfer. He is very close to my heart, because of all the experiences we have had teaching him, but he has had a really hard time since we found him. As you may remember, after our first lesson with him (when we came back for our follow up lesson) he was really sick. The next week when we went back, we found out that his cell phone had been taken and his brother was in a tricycle accident. The next time, we learned that his mother had had a stroke and was in the hospital. Last week, I was excited to get to go teach him, but also kind of nervous, because of all these bad things that have happened and I don't want him to associate missionaries with this apparent "cursing." When we walked up, he greeted us and I asked, "how's it going?" His only response: "Something else has happened." He invited us in and we started talking and found out that his brother was in the hospital with Typhoid Fever (which they now think might actually be dengue).
We had a good lesson--he's so brilliant and really loves the Gospel--and in the course of it, he said something that really surprised and humbled me. He said that he has had a really hard past few weeks (couple of months actually), but he is so grateful to us. He said that he knows that we are instruments of God, because every time something bad happens to him, the missionaries always show up to help comfort and uplift him and remind him of the Gospel. It was kind of another spiritual slap-in-the-face for me, as I realized that my perspective had been entirely faithless--seeing our visits as the CAUSE of all his trials--where his perspective was so much more faithFUL--seeing our visits as the REMEDY for his suffering.
He wasn't yet able to come to church on Sunday (he has to stay home and help take care of his recovering mother still), so he won't make his May 17 baptismal date, but I am so excited for him whenever he is finally able to be baptized, because he will be a GREAT addition to this branch!

3) I forgot to tell you last week, but Erwin (my favorite bakla) cut his hair!!! He cut it to shoulder length about a week and a half ago ("little by little," he said, because it really is hard for him to let it go) and cut it again this past week to even shorter! :D I am so pumped for his baptism as well!!!

4) EASTER IN THE PHILIPPINES is strange. It honestly didn't feel like Easter at all... but the culture here is the strangest. The focus of Easter here is not so much the Resurrection of Christ, but just the Atonement and death. In fact, in memory/"celebration" of it, some people choose to go around whipping themselves. They show videos every night depicting the crucifixion (in a very graphic way, according to the other sisters--I was blessed not to have been exposed to it), and on Friday (Biernes Santo, or Holy Friday) some people even parade around carrying a cross and then are literally crucified. It is awful and heartbreaking to see so many people who claim to love and honor the Savior Jesus Christ, and yet so completely miss the point of what Easter is all about. :( They are so concerned with making sure we realize the awful agony and pain that Christ went through when He atoned for our sins that they miss the beauty and the peace and the joy that is available to us because of the realization that HE LIVES. HE WAS RESURRECTED. BECAUSE OF ALL THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING THAT HE BORE ON OUR BEHALF, WE DON'T HAVE TO SUFFER, IF WE WILL JUST REPENT AND ACCEPT THE GIFT OF THE ATONEMENT THAT HE WHOLEHEARTEDLY OFFERS TO US.
Witnessing all that I have witnessed this week has made me SO GRATEFUL for the knowledge and understanding that I have of the Atonement and the Resurrection. I will honestly never see Easter in the same way again. I hope never again to take for granted this beautiful holiday... It truly is a gift, a sacred and divine treasure, and I hope that I can honor its sanctity in my own personal observances in the future.

5) Bro. Andres finally got a job!!!!! After nearly 5 months of being jobless, losing their home, having no money for food or travel to church, they are finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. I am a little sad that I'm being transferred right when things are starting to look up, yet it also occurred to me that I am probably the luckiest missionary, because I have been able to see their consistent and diligent faith and hope, through all these seemingly endless trials. I am the one who has been blessed to try to help them in these darkest days, and I have learned SO MUCH in the process. I truly love and respect that family so much.

6) Frankton (our most active branch missionary) went home to visit his family for summer vacation (they live in Palawan--a province in Manila mission). We said goodbye to him last Monday and already miss him. He's a typical, immature, 18-year-old boy sometimes (a little obnoxious), but he is so solid in the Gospel and is going to be a great missionary once he hits his year mark in October! I'm going to miss that kid, but I'm definitely going to keep tabs on him when I get home, because I just know he has a lot of potential to do great things with his life, and for the church here in the Philippines. :)

7) The worst thing about being transferred, I think, is leaving Sister Strebel! We have become such good friends over the past 6 weeks! Sister McCarthy's Australian accent has led both Sister Strebel and I to speak in British accents...pretty much all the time. It's really become quite a habit (possibly not a good one), so much so that one of the counselors in our branch presidency asked me on Sunday is S. Strebel was from England. We both had quite a laugh about that and explained that it's really just a bad habit from speaking in accents so much at home. She is so fun though, and such a great sister missionary, and I think I have learned more from her than any other companion so far. I honestly can't tell you how blessed I feel to have had the chance to serve with her.

8) My newest favorite investigator is one that we have been trying to teach since before Sister Medina left. He is from California and is a trike driver here in Morong. Well we finally found time (when we became a foursome) to go try to find his house (which is in the area far away from everything). We weren't able to teach him last week, but ran into him on the street while he was driving and he told us where his house is. So we went there last week and finally got to teach him (and meet A LOT of his family, who live right around him)! It was the first time I have actually taught a lesson in English, and IT WAS SO FUN!!! He is so great, though! HE HAS SO MANY QUESTIONS! He had LDS friends back when he lived in California who introduced him to the church a little bit and told him a little bit about the Book of Mormon. He is SO INTERESTED in the Book of Mormon. As he said, "I feel like you know something that no one else knows that you just aren't telling people." It kind of made me laugh, actually, because I told him: "That is exactly right! You get it! Except we ARE telling people! That is why we are here as missionaries! We WANT to share this great additional knowledge with you!" My only regret is that we didn't make it a priority to go teach him sooner. But at least I know I am leaving him in good, fluent-English-speaking hands. :)

9) Halo-halo is the most delicious, inexpensive summer treat in all the world. It really needs to be a thing in America. It's like the most extravagant snow cone you will ever taste, and is the perfect thing to get you through a deadly hot summer day. :D

That is all I have time for now. I will have many more tales, I am sure, next week! Wish me luck in my new area (and packing... :P)! I love you all!!! Hope you have a fantastic week!!! Happy late Easter! And Happy Finals/End-of-Finals to all my beloved college friends!!!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

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