Monday, May 19, 2014

Sister Franks in the Philippines - May 18, 2014 ("I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22!" -- but kind of not)

Hello again!!

This has been a week full of miracles and growth for little ol' Sister Franks. It's strange, but cool, I am really starting to recognize how Heavenly Father is using this time on the mission to shape and refine me. Never expected it would actually be this successful. :P 

On Wednesday, we got to work with the Sister Training Leaders here. Sister Sanders (one of my roommates in the MTC) and Sister Tibungcog (a Filipina from our batch coming to the field). I've never really been excited to work with the STLs (except Sister Houser), but it was a really good day. I got to work with Sister Tibungcog (from Mindanao--the part down south that's really dangerous, where they don't let foreigners go), and learned a lot from her. She's so fun and down-to-earth and so humble. She's a great missionary--great at being bold and sharing our message with simple testimony, but also good at connecting with investigators. We were actually able to have a LOT of lessons, even though our time was shorter than a normal work day, and even found some new investigators! One of the biggest realizations I had while working with her though, is how confident I am becoming as a missionary. In previous transfers (especially the first half of the mission), I kind of dreaded working with STLs because I was so self-conscious about them judging me and my teaching skills, or my ability to lead the area, connect to investigators, teach people not lessons, etc. Last week was the first time that I was able to just let all of those preconceived notions/inhibitions go and just work like I would with any other companion. I think, as a result, all our lessons went much better. The respect we both have for each other led to a sort of automatic unity that really surprised me, since I had never really met or talked to her at all before that day (just knew her name from other sisters who served with her). It was a really fun day, and SO good for our area, because Sister Morrell and Sister Welling have been sick the past couple of weeks so we haven't been able to work as much as we would have liked to. 

Immediately following our great, successful day with the STLs, Sister Morrell and I experienced THE HARDEST DAY of our entire missions!! It's hard to even explain why it was such a hard day, really. We left the house at 11:30am (did all our studying back-to-back in the morning, instead of how our normal schedule is of working 10-12 and then having language study after lunch) and went to lunch at the house of one of our recent converts and his less-active family. The lunch was good (sinagang! mmmm... :D) and we were able to share a message with them about missionary work from Lehi's dream (1 Nephi 8:12) and invited them to be fellowshippers to some of their friends who we are teaching. Overall, a good experience, should have been fine. After that, we had a bunch of lessons planned, but the schedule didn't work out quite how we had lined it up. Long story short, we just walked A LOT (like probably 5+ miles--no joke--throughout the day) and I swear it was THE HOTTEST DAY of the summer. On the way to one of our lessons at like 2:40, we were both just exhausted and hot and talking about how crazy our lives are as missionaries here in the Philippines and just both started laughing (the preferred option to crying). It was kind of an amazing turning point for both of us, though, because we talked about how strange missionary life really is, that everything in your body and spirit--every part of our "natural man"--is telling you just to go home or give up or whatever, but just we just keep walking. We just keep pressing on. It was the first that either of us had experienced what it truly means to let our wills be "swallowed up in the will of the Father" (Mosiah 15:7; see also PMG pg 120). Honestly, I was surprised. That was probably the start of my realizing how this mission has changed me. For those that know me, you know how I have never been good at diligence or perseverance. When things get hard, I basically do all I can to get out of it, quit, or at least make it as painless and easy as possibly (doing the "bare minimum" required to get by). Who would have ever thought that little ol' ME would get to a point of mental stamina to just turn everything over to the Lord and follow His will, trusting Him entirely to get me through it? Apparently Heavenly Father did. I still can hardly wrap my mind around it. My respect for returned missionaries has once again skyrocketed. I know I am not the only one who has had that kind of experience (probably every Elder and Sister does at some point), but it still amazes me. I wish I had words to convey my feelings, but I don't. I just hope I will remember this experience when I get back to real life and have to go through finals, or finding a job, or raising a family. It's like what Kristen and I used to tell each other all the time: "YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS." :) We really can, if we remember to rely on the right source: our Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement. 

Speaking of the Atonement, Sister Morrell was reading a Sunday School manual last night and found this beautiful quote that we really liked: “The wounds in [the Lord’s] hands, feet, and side are signs that in mortality painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect, signs that tribulation is not evidence that God does not love us. It is a significant and hopeful fact that it is the wounded Christ who comes to our rescue. He who bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love, the emblems of humility and forgiveness is the Captain of our Soul. That evidence of pain in mortality is undoubtedly intended to give courage to others who are also hurt and wounded by life, perhaps even in the house of their friends” (from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland).
She read it to me as we were getting ready to say our nightly prayer, and it reminded me of the story that Leo tells Josh on the West Wing. How there is a man who falls in a hole and is trapped. He calls out for help. One of his friends passes by and he shouts "Hey Joe! It's me. I've fallen in this hole, can you help me out?" The friend quickly jumps into the hole with him. The man says, "Are you crazy? Now we are both stuck down here." The friend just says, "Yeah, but I've been here before and I know the way out." 
That story had never struck me before as such a beautiful analogy for the Atonement, but last night I realized how true it really is. Christ went through all that He went through "that he may know ACCORDING TO THE FLESH how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12, emphasis added). He knows what we feel not just in a hypothetical sense, but in a very real, literal, physical sense. Sister Morrell has had an ear infection for two weeks, and last night cut her finger on one of our fans, and we were talking about how Christ knows that pain. He knows the sting of her bleeding finger, the ache of her clogged ear, and everything else on top of it. But because He felt that, He has the power and ability to heal her, to heal us all, to take away that suffering, to lead us out of the hole we have fallen into. 
This Gospel is beautiful. The Atonement is incredible. 

My birthday was kind of strange, but good. One of the coolest things was waking up on Saturday morning and realizing that not only was I turning 22, but that nearly my entire life as a 21 year old was spent as a missionary and representative of my Savior (I was set apart the day after my birthday last year). I was just so overwhelmed with gratitude as I thought on the past year and everything I have been through, all the blessings I have received, all the miracles I have witnessed. It's kind of sad, almost, that I won't be able to say that about this coming year. And it is still weird to think that I have already been gone almost a year. It's good at least that the effects and memories of my time here will last a lot longer than my visa and ministerial certificate do. ;)
Saturday was pretty much a regular day (even did my morning exercise like the diligent little missionary I should be): we studied, went to work, got punted, followed the Spirit and found new investigators (that story to follow shortly), made a yummy lunch of homemade Five Guys style burgers (and Puregold, the grocery store here, finally got green olives! Best birthday gift Heavenly Father could have given me!), studied some more, went to work again, bought a couple shakes (more like icees) between lessons. When we got home though, my kabahays had prepared a little party for me, including a yummy chocolate cake, and cookies and cream ice cream (the best!). So we all sat around on the kitchen floor (our "living room", if you will) and had cake and ice cream and talked about birthday traditions. They are so cute, and it was so sweet of them to make such an effort to make me feel so loved. :) It was a good day.
Okay, so about our great finding story on Saturday! The mission/wards/stakes here have given us, as missionaries, these lists of people that used to live in our ward but that moved away and left no forwarding address for their church records. So we have been given the task of trying to go find people who knew them before they moved (from their old neighborhood or whatever) and trying to find where they are now. Well, after we got punted on Saturday morning, we had some time to kill before going home for lunch. Being the diligent missionaries we are, we knew that meant some kind of finding activity. :P We happened to be just a couple of blocks away from where one of the "lost members" (people that moved with no new address) lived, so we decided to go try to find them. We found the right street and started asking people if anyone knew them. We were eventually redirected to a tindahan (a house with a little storefront for selling snacks and drinks), where we asked help. The teenage boy who we first asked was apparently scared by two white girls talking to him and went to get his parents. They came out and we explained what we were looking for, and they started shouting to all their friends/neighbors to try to find out if anyone knew the people we were looking for. No one did. But despite the lack of success in locating the members, we were able to talk to the parents a little bit and explain that we are missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known here as "Mormons"). We were about to go try the other end of the street, but asked if we could come back to share with them our message, about Jesus Christ and intended for families. They said yes, and I went to get their information (names, etc, so we could come back), but then Sister said "just come in! It's so hot outside!" So, of course, we went in! We talked to them and got to know more about their family, and they agreed to let us share a short message with them. Turns out Brother has a LOT of questions, especially about why there are so many churches/religions, and Sister is looking for something that will help her know how to raise her kids to be obedient and grounded and grow up to be good people, even though she herself is imperfect. Sister Morrell and I just kind of looked at each other, thinking "this family is golden!", and testified to them that this message is exactly what they are looking for! They also happen to have 3 kids, all youth age (a 15 year old boy, and two girls, 12 and 13), who are really sharp. They agreed we could come back, but said Saturday would be best (so we have to wait a whole week to see them again!). I think Sister Morrell thinks I am a little overly optimistic about them, but honestly, I just feel like they are so prepared for this Gospel, and it is exactly what they need and are looking for in their lives. I am so excited to see what will happen and what the Lord has in store for their family. :) 

Being a missionary is THE GREATEST! We also happen to have a stinking AWESOME ward here! We had ward council yesterday, and I have literally never seen a ward council so strong and so eager to help the work move forward in such a productive way. I just feel so blessed and motivated to be assigned here in Taytay. The Lord really is hastening His work, and it's so inspiring to be a part of it, and seeing how things really are coming together to provide a way for us mere mortals to be successful in our endeavors. 

I hope that you all have a great week!! I love you so much and think of and pray for you always! Thank you for all your love and support!

Love always,
Sister Emma Franks

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