Friday, January 23, 2015

Heading Home

The last few pictures from my mission! It was a good last few days! We had a career workshop, devotional, interviews, got in some final sight seeing, ate our last mangoes, went to the Manila temple and.... I got to see my family. After 18 MONTHS!!! It was the best! But also soooo hard to leave the country and people that I love. I hope to be back. SOON!  The hardest was taking off the name tag. President Guanzon told us that our name tag is now on our heart, but now it is harder because we have to create our own rules. Let's hope I can continue to be a missionary and find the joy that I found for the past 18 months.

12/1/14 I did it!

Dearest Family and Friends,
I decided to send one last email! I can't believe that it is my last. It still doesn't really feel real and I'm not sure that it really will until I get off that airplane and see my family! I DID IT! I can't believe it. Feels like a dream.
It has been quite the week though. Full of goodbyes. tears. excitement. reflection. nervousness. Just about every single emotion. Overall it was a really great last week though. I had one of the best proselyting days on my whole mission. Extended lots of baptismal dates. Attended church in Camalig! Saw more people in the Morada family be baptized. Watched an adorable Pilipino primary program. Experienced POURING RAIN one last time. Took my first hot shower in 18 months (without flip flops on). Had my departing interview. Bore my testimony to my batch. Packed my bags. And got no sleep. Don't worry there will be a lot more detail in 3 days!
I just wanted to thank all of you for your support during my whole mission. Even though I have hardly been able to find the time to write you all, I am eternally grateful for all the love I have felt on my mission. I have felt the prayers and support coming from both sides of the viel. I am so blessed to have such a huge support system. I can hardly wait to see all of you! I know that when I come home you will see a different Mary. But it will be a good thing. All the experiences I have had and people I have met have changed my life for the better. I will miss it everyday. The Philippines is such a special place and the Pilipino people are even more special. Genuine, thoughtful, humble, and happy. I will miss their smiles. I know that Heavenly Father loves me because he gave me the chance to serve these people. My family has gotten a whole lot bigger over the last 18 months.
I know with all of my heart that this is the only true church on the face of the earth. I know that Heavely Father loves all of us and that we are truly His children. His presence is real in our lives. We can become like him if we live the gospel. This is the only path that leads to true and lasting joy. This is the path that leads to eternal life. Because of my mission I know what I have to do to get there and to help others get there. I love my Savior Jesus Christ. His atonement has changed me and it has changed the people around me. I can't express how thankful I am for His Atonement in my life. We can't get back to our Heavenly Father without it. I know that missionary work is God's work. I have seen His hand each day in my mission and I have seen miracles. Things that could not happen if it were not for Him. I know that God puts people into our lives for a reason. We are all brothers and sisters and we are to help each other. I love all of my brothers and sisters here on earth. I love my mission. It is going to kill me to remove my name tag, but I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for me and that it is time to take the mission home. Harrah for Israel!
I love you all so so so much! See you all so so so soon!
-Sister Gardner

11/24/14 Enjoy it while it lasts

Dearest Family and Friends!
I can't believe that I am heading into my last week as a missionary! Doesn't seem real AT ALL! I am of course excited to see all of you in just a short time, but also very sad to leave this beautiful country and mostly these wonderful people that I love so much. It really has been THE BEST 18 months! It is quickly coming to end. I know this last week will just fly by, but I am going to enjoy every minute! 
It was a good week though, but soooo busy! On Tuesday I had my very last exchanges. I was companions with Sister Hafoka and we worked in her area. It was fun to teach with her. She really has become such an amazing person because of her mission. We both just want to do our best until the very end and that made it a really good exchange! Man I will miss Sis Hafoka. The happiest missionary. 
This week we were able to teach a lot of really great lessons. It made me realize how much I am going to miss proselyting. I love being able to teach people the fullness of the gospel each day and see their lives change because of it. My favorite lessons this week were with Aurora and Mark. We finished teaching Aurora about the Plan of Salvation. She wants so so badly to reach the Celestial Kingdom. At the end of the lesson she was crying about all the trials in her life and we testified about how all of those trials are just making her strong and worthy to reach the Celestial Kingdom. She is gaining such a strong testimony. Can't wait to see her baptism. In pictures. haha.  Then with Mark! He is so smart! He has remembered about why there were so many churches and then totally got that Joseph Smith restored the only true one. (Not many people seem to grasp that). He was telling us that he has a lot of questions for God later. He accepted a baptismal date and we are taking him to church on Sunday! 
Then the craziness! On Thursday Sister Christensen and I went to Manila for a day to get fingerprinted. Just us two. We had tons of fun, but it was exhausting. We went to the GIANT Mall of Asia. I felt like I was in America. Not really sure how I felt about it. But the workers danced in Cold Stone (yes we ate real ice cream- couldn't finish it because I haven't had anything that rich in 18 months) and they danced in this other sweet Pilipino store. At the hotel we saw some of the missionaries that we knew from the MTC. It was so weird to see them! It made me feel like the last 18 months just flew by. Manila is just not as pretty as Bicol though. We were so happy when we landed in Legazpi. We felt like we were coming home. It was nice to see some rice fields again and of course the Mayon. Other than the fact that we missed our flight was a good trip. Manila traffic is not my friend. It was so embarrassing, but the Elders were champs and got us another flight an hour later. I don't think Sister Christensen and I will ever live that one down. 
Sunday was great! Lots of less actives came to church! And some investigators that we did not expect! 
Today we had District Activity. My last. We went to these really pretty falls and had lots of fun! 
That was my week! This one will be a bit sad, but good! We will be busy. Lots going on! No promises that I will email next week...but maybe I will send some pictures! 
I love you all! I can't wait to see you so soon! 
-Sister Gardner

11/17/14 Surprises

Dear Family and Friends!
This week was a crazy one! The weeks are going by WAYYY too fast. It scares me! On Tuesday we had a special MLC where all the district leaders in the whole mission were invited so there were a lot of people! It was about Family History. As a mission we are really trying to get all the members to become submitters. It got us really excited to teach the less actives and recent converts about Family History. We have started helping the members and they are also super excited! Gotta save souls here, and in the spirit world right? During MLC President Guanzon's son in law (he gave thew workshop) shared a cool story with us. They found a record showing that President Guanzon's greatx4 grandpa and grandma are from the Legazpi mission. They left here to get married because of a Mayon erruption. So President Guanzon has ancestors here that he is helping to receive the gospel. Super awesome. It was also super fun to see almost my whole batch at MLC. The sisters from the first batch in the Legazpi mission are going home! 
On Wednesday I got a surprise visit from Sister Ilago! I thought that I wouldn't get to see her before I left, but they were passing Guinobatan on the way to a meeting in Legazpi so President have permission for them to stop at the apartment. I was so shocked to see her, but so happy!! It was sad to say goodbye because who knows if I will ever see her again. She is from the sketchy part of the Philippines where white people shouldn't go haha. 
On Friday I had my last Zone Training. All the Sisters in our apartment did the musical number. We sang 'God Be With You Till We Meet Again.' One verse in Indian, one in Tagalog and the other in Tongan. Then at the end we all sang in our own language all together. It was so maganda! Our whole zone loved it! Getting creative over here in Guinobatan. Then I gave my departing testimony. I got super teary when Sister Hafoka gave hers, but then was nervous when I gave mine so I made it through without crying. It was sad though. I have been in this zone for half my mission.  Still doesn't really feel real though.  
We are working hard, but running into complicated problems with a lot of our investigators, but seeing MIRACLES with investigators. Inactive members are coming back to church! I am glad that I still get to see miracles in my last few weeks here on the mission! I will just try to enjoy it. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I don't want to miss out on anything that the Lord needs me to learn or do. I can see that Satan really tries to get a hold on missionaries in their last weeks. 
This morning the sisters in my apartment were super nice and surprised me for my birthday! Then the zone surprised me at the chapel! Such a good birthday! The last one that I get to spend here in the Philippines! 
I love you all! Have a happy week!
-Sister Gardner