Wednesday, January 15, 2014

1/13/14 Ups and Downs

Dearest family and friends,

This week has been crazy! Lots of ups and downs, but I learned a lot this week. This email might be all over the place. So Monday we traveled to Legazpi for MLC. I always learn a lot from MLC, but this week I realized how much I want to just have an eye more single to the work. I want to be more focused and give my all all the time. The time is passing quickly and I want to learn all that I can and help as many people as I can in the time that I have left. 

We also had a really good district meeting this week about teaching people, not lessons. Ever since then my companion and I have been teaching much more effectively and we have been able to really find out the concerns of our investigators. We also watched a video about the Atonement and Missionary Work. There are clips of Eyring and Holland speaking in the video and they talk about how missionary work is not easy because Salvation never was easy. The price payed by Christ for Salvation was not easy, so how can we expect missionary work to be easy? The blessing of the Atonement in missionary work is truly amazing though. If missionaries just rely on the power of the Atonement, they can accomplish so much and bring about so much good and experience so much growth. The fatigue, disappointment and sadness that missionaries often face, really is so small compared to what the Savior suffered. 

This week I got the latest conference Ensign in my package and so I have started reading it and a talk that really stood out to me that didn't really when I heard it in conference was "Be Meek and Lowly of Heart" by Elder Ulisses Soares. One of my biggest goals on my mission is to change to be a more Christlike person, and meekness is one of the biggest parts of the Character of Christ. Some of the attributes of a meek person that are mentioned in the talk are: righteous, humble, teachable, patient, recognize weaknesses, kind, anxious to improve, self-worth, self-control, calm, temperate, not prideful, faithful and forgiving. I love this idea of meekness and know that if we are meek that we will truly be happy. We will not ever be trying to compare or compete with others, but we will be content with ourselves and therefore be able to help and lift others. If everyone was meek this world would be such a different place! Christ is the ultimate example of meekness and because of him we have the opportunity to change and become more like him. Become meek. 

Church was really good this week! The spirit was really strong in every meeting and our branch is progressing so much! It makes me so happy! So right now we are teaching a girl that is 14 and her mom and sister are members but they are less active. We are also teaching her older sister, but she is out of town. Anyway, she has come to church 2 weeks in a row. The first time she liked it, but was embarrassed because all the girls had nice church outfits and she was wearing jeans and so this past week we gave her a skirt I never wore. She was so excited and she looked to cute at church! She is darling. She is brave to come to church all by herself! 

On a not so good note, we had to drop Roeal this week. It is kindof a long story, but basically we went again to teach him with President Lario and we were so excited because last time went so well, but it went really bad and we just can't go back. He is not listening to the spirit anymore and is not willing to sincerely pray about our message. No one can know the truth unless they will listen to the spirit and humbly pray to the source of all truth. Before we left he looked me and Sister Lang in the eyes and told us that he truly loves us and is so thankful for all that we do, but that we feels bad for everyone in our church because it is not right. It BROKE my heart. We both started crying. Roeal was so close to finding true happiness and he completely closed himself off. I know that Roeal loves us and I know it is because we brought him the truth and I know he saw and felt something different. I will continue to pray for him every day of my life and hope that everything will work out for him. After we left though his wife texted us a really sweet text. I feel bad for her. I know that she knows it is true, despite the hardness of Roeal's heart. Before we had left she wanted all of the pamphlets from the lessons we hadn't got to so that she could read them. I hope she will read the Book of Mormon and can help soften Roeal's heart.

Now on a lighter note- Someone in our branch uploaded a picture of me on her on facebook and someone from her mission commented and said the knew me and it ended up being one of translators from when I went to the Philippines before! Small world! 

While we were at the mission office earlier this week (which is like The Office tv show- the new financial secretary is such a Jim Halpert it is amazing)- they were telling us funny stories that happen in the office and this was my favorite.  One of the Senior couple missionaries said "My wife thinks I'm a God, she always feeds me burnt offerings." I was dying laughing. 

I also have a new favorite sentence "Kawili-wili ang kilikili mo." So fun to say. 

I hope that you all have a great week! I love and miss you all every day! 

-Sister Gardner

1/06/14 Happy New Year!

Family and Friends,

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I can't believe that this year I will get to see all of your faces again! Time is so fast! New Years is quickly becoming one of my least favorite holidays. It is a bigger deal here than Christmas and so New Years eve and day= the days no one wants to be taught by missionaries, so that equals trying everyone you can think of and then tracting while everyone is just trying to carry on with the celebrations. We managed though...It also means fireworks aka homeade bombs going off. I now know what war sounds like. For sure the only New Years when I was in bed at 10:30 and so frustrated with every person celebrating the New Year right outside our apartment. Haha maybe next year I will actually enjoy the holiday. I did take some time to set some goals for myself for the last year I have as a full time missionary. The crazy thing is, last year when I was thinking about the year ahead of me I definitely didn't picture serving a mission. 

So this week the thing that stood out the very most was ROEAL!! So January 3rd probably one of the most memorable days of my whole life! We had an appointment with Roeal and his 2 friends and so we invited President and Sister Lario to come with us because we really just felt like there wasn't much more we could do for Roeal and we needed some backup. Background: Brother Lario is the former branch president. So many members were baptized because of him and he is just an amazing person and had done so much good for the church here on Masbate. For a few reasons though he had become less active for a few months and his wife has been coming to church alone. President Lario is known for being awesome in the Bible and so we knew that would be perfect for Roeal. So they come to meet us and they seem so happy and I am so stoked to finally meet the esteemed President Lario. So we get to Roeal's house and his 2 friends are there and Roeal gets so nervous the second that he sees President Lario. Brother Lario's presence was so powerful as a Priesthood holder! So Roeal is super fidgety and takes forever to get settled. We say an opening prayer and then ask Roeal how his reading in the Book of Mormon is going and he says some of it is true and some of it isn't. That just opened a whole can of worms and from there President Lario was in the zone and he just went at is explaining to him our doctrine and asking him questions. It was probably the coolest think I have ever seen. President Lario knows his stuff! He has a serious gift and there are definitely people he is meant to bless with it! Any question or concern that Roeal had- President Lario had an answer and a scripture to back it up. He basically has the whole Bible memorized. He knew the whole history of the Bible and why we use the King James version. He also knew the history of just about every church. He knew specific verses that the English and Tagalog translations were different. We talked a lot about the Godhead and he had so many verses that explained the truth. It was so cool- he just asked them about what they beleive and found the errors and then showed or explained our doctrine. President Lario was getting so pumped when he was showing them. At one point we were discussing the temple and some different things about God and Roeal with all the power he had said "I need Salvation now, I need to know God now. What if I die tomorrow? I don't need Salvation tomorrow, I need it now." It was amazing how powerful his concern was. He is so desperate and hungry for the truth. It showed me that he was unsure about his religion because he wasn't sure if he has salvation. I am so glad that I know the pathway that leads to salvation. President Lario told him that it was okay because we hadn't finished teaching him the lessons yet, he hadn't had the chance to hear the entire message of the gospel. As this all went on it was amazing to see the reactions of the 3 men. Roeal seemed on the edge, like he was scrambling for proof, but had none. I think the whole thing really shook his beliefs. One of his friends- the other pastor was very defensive and resisting everything, while the other was receptive to the spirit and believed the message- so the other one got mad at him haha. The coolest thing to see though was President Lario. He had such a presence and there was authority behind everything that he said. I have never seen anything like it. He was so happy. Even if Roeal never changes, maybe we found Roeal so that President Lario could change. He was so happy after we left the lesson and his wife was just beaming. It was probably the cutest thing I have ever seen. I will never forget the spirit beaming out of President Lario. The best part is that he came to church yesterday! It was so amazing! And since our Church is later because of the new year, we went on Sunday morning to tell Roeal he could go to his church and ours and he said that he would come next week! We are pumped! He was so excited to see us too and wanted to take pictures with us and his family!

Another great thing about this week is the progression with our branch! We had more people come to church yesterday than they have had in a very long time and everything went really smoothly! As missionaries we have been putting a lot of time and effort into helping the branch and have been having a lot of meetings trying to figure out what we can do, and finally on Sunday things started to happen! In our class for investigators we had so many between the 3 missionary companionships that we could barely fit in the room it has always been in! It was so awesome! President Lario taught the class- so of course if went great! Then me and my companion taught relief society- so there was actually a prepared teacher! Progressing here on Masbate! 
Things are really going well as far as work. We had a lot of people accept baptismal dates and people actually came to church! Finally some fruits out of all those weeks of tracting! I am just so glad that I can be a small part of the Lord's work and help people understand their purpose here on earth and return to their Father in Heaven. There is nothing I would rather be doing. 

I love you all and thanks for the constant support! 

-Sister Gardner

12/29/13 Puzzles

I made it through my first Christmas away from home! It never really felt like Christmas (which is probably a good thing), but it was actually a good Christmas! Mostly because I got to call home! That was by far the best thing ever! For Christmas Eve we made pazookies and on Christmas Day we made French Toast for breakfast, took some great boy band pics with the moustaches Sister Ogden's mom sent, opened packages from home and then went out and worked!  Oh, we also picked out a pig for our lechon on Christmas. That is something I will never forget- pig shopping in the Philippines on Christmas. It was so wrong....Then the next day we had to walk our pig on a leash to the place that cooks it. Then the next day we watched it being cooked (even helped out) and then ate it. I don't think I will ever eat pig again. I have never been so involved in my food...The things we do to have a fun district lunch. 

The good news about this week is that no one in our apartment is being transferred! Me and my companion get to stay together for another transfer and so do the other Sisters in out apartment! I am so thankful! Me and my companion have been able to work really hard and also have a lot of fun- the perfect balance! We had a lot of good lessons this week and we are hoping to see some of the fruits of our labors this next transfer. Yesterday we had 2 investigators come to church that we never expected to come! We were so happy! I was literally shocked when they walked in!
So now for Roeal- the roler coaster. So we taught him three times this week. The first was on Christmas Day and so we just taught about the Atonement and about Christ. But of course Roeal being Roeal, he doesn't celebrate Christmas because it isn't the actual date of Christ's birth. But the spirit was really strong in the lesson and he didn't have any of his crazy questions. So then lesson 2- We taught the end of the Plan of Salvation and it was so good! He told us that he couldn't yet say that he believed it was true, but he said that if it was it was absolutely beautiful and he committed to pray about it. The best part though was at the end. We watched the 20 minute Restoration video because he hasn't received an answer about Joseph Smith. The spirit was SO STRONG! His eyes and his wives eyes didn't leave that screen the whole time and when it was over they both has tears in his eyes. Right when it ended his wife just looked at us and said "That was beautiful" and Roeal said "Joseph Smith was a really good man." I know he felt the spirit and it was telling him Joseph Smith is a prophet. So we are all excited and then we went to teach again yesterday and it started out so well, but then at the end he told us that he doesn't believe it because he doesn't believe Joseph Smith could have seen Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ because they are one. I was heartbroken! He was totally denying what he felt and all the progress we have made with him. After the lesson me and my comp both cried. I have come to love Roeal so much and have never given so much to an investigator, and now there really isn't much more we can do if he won't listen to the spirit telling him Joseph Smith is a prophet and The Book of Mormon is true. He is to caught up on the Bible. I feel so bad for him because he is missing out of the fullness of the gospel.
After our lesson with Roeal we found a puzzle piece in the path way that we walk home and I just couldn't stop thinking about it and thinking about Roeal. With a puzzle if one tiny piece is missing, the puzzle isn't complete. I am so thankful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints where we have the fullness of the gospel. All the puzzle pieces are in place. There are many good churches that do SO MUCH good for the world and are so amazing, but they are not complete. I am thankful that even if I don't completely understand every puzzle piece that makes up the Restored Gospel, that Heavenly Father does. His plan and his doctrine is perfect and I can fill in my missing puzzle pieces with faith and trust in him. I think the biggest thing I have learned on my mission is that perfect knowledge of doctrine doesn't come even by the testimony of Prophets or Apostles, or even the Book of Mormon, it comes through the witness of the Holy Ghost. It comes when we have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to help us progress and learn. ( 2 Nephi 28:31, D&C 121:26, John) For example, Lorenzo Snow said that his testimony of Joseph Smith didn't come by knowing him or listening to him speak, but through the power and the witness of the Holy Ghost. So how can we know? How can we receive the witness of the Holy Ghost? We can ask of God through prayer. (James 1:5, Moroni 10:3-5) And why do we need the fullness of the Gospel? For me it is because this knowledge changes everything. It changes how we see ourselves, how we treat people, how we spend our time. We know who we are, why we are here, what our potential is, and what it means to be Children of God. But mostly it brings true and everlasting happiness, and it brings peace. 14:27.
So maybe Roeal is a great person and he will still be happy, but he won't have the fullness of the Gospel if he never seeks knowledge through the Holy Ghost. And that breaks my heart. Who wants a puzzle where one piece is missing?
So Roeal kinda broke my heart this week, but it was still a good week and I know that my companion and I did all that we can do for him and now it is up to him to really pray and find out for himself. 
So that was my week! I love you all so much! I miss you all everyday! Have a great New Years! 

-Sister Gardner

12/22/13 Merry Christmas

MerrChristmas! I don't know that it will ever truly feel like Christmas here in the Philippines, but I am trying my best to feel the Christmas spirit! I can hardly wait for the phone call home and to open that package from home! Hopefully it will feel like Christmas then! This week I have really been trying to focus all of my studies and thoughts toward the true meaning of Christmas and why we really celebrate this holiday. Thus I have been focusing on Christ. For our Christmas mission conference this past week we had to prepare 2 talks and then were randomly chosen (thankfully I wasn't chosen, but I actually enjoyed the preparation). The topics were: 1. What is a missionaries gift to Christ and 2. What is Christ's gift to missionaries. I am thankful for all the gifts Christ has given me, but something I have been so thankful for lately is his example. I know how to live my life and I have goals of who I want to be because of Christ's example for me. My life has purpose and direction because I have a perfect example to follow and someone to pattern my life after. I am eternally grateful for that. I thought about what I could ever give to Christ as a missionary that would be enough compared to what he has done for me. There really is nothing that could ever compare, but I think we can all just give him our hearts. We can try our best to align our will with his and do the things he would do if he were here. We can serve other people. I am so thankful for this time of year to reflect upon Christ and especially here on the mission when just about every aspect of Christmas that I have ever known is taken away. It has really given me the opportunity to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. 

The other day we taught one of our investigators. Let's call her scrooge. We go up to her house and the first thing we say is "Maligayang Pasko" (Merry Christmas) and she immediately starts going on about how she has no money so it won't be Christmas because there won't be gifts- so of course we changed our lesson plan and talked about the true meaning of Christmas. It was amazing to see the change in her face. At the end of the lesson she was smiling and said that we were right- she has many reasons to celebrate and be happy this Christmas! When we left she said "Maligayang Pasko" with a big giant smile on her face. 

So backing up...this week we went to the Legazpi Mission Christmas Conference. All of the missionaries in the entire mission were there and it was craziness! SO many missionaries, but SO much fun! It was so good to see everyone! All the zones did Christmas performances. It was halarious. We remixed Joy to the World. haha it was a disaster. It was at the Legazpi chapel (my old ward) and all the youth were there getting ready to go on a temple trip. There were 3 of them from less active families that I helped to reactivate and I was almost crying seeing them now getting ready to go to the temple! It really was amazing to see! 

So work this week was alright. It was limited because of traveling to the mainland for the Christmas conference, but we were still able to teach a little bit. Not the best week for work though, we got ripped 30 times in one day...probably a record. People are busy spending time with family or just not home this time of year. We had an awesome lesson with our investigator Marilyn though. She is cruising right through the Book or Mormon and said her New Year's goal is to go to Church every week! Then there is Roeal...I don't really want to talk about it. He made me cry, and not in a good way. I am hoping our next lesson will be better though.
This week we also had our branch Christmas Party. I love Filipinos. Just give them some music and some simple games and they go NUTS. Kids and adults. I literally just sat and watched them and laughed for a good 2 hours. I love how they can just have fun and enjoy being with each other no matter what they are doing. So funny. 
Earlier today we had our district activity, which was awesome! We went to this beach resort and it was beautiful! We played some game like dodgeball, did kartwheels, and attempted to climb coconut trees.
I hope that you all have a very Merry Christmas! Know that I am so happy here and I really feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be able to have so many cool experiences here in the Philippines! I can't imagine not being where I am right now and I am so thankful for what my mission is doing for my life! I love you all!

-Sister Gardner

12/09/13 Trials

Mga kaibegan at pamilya ko! 

So this week wasn't the greatest, but it wasn't the worst either! We had MLC in Legazpi at the beginning of the week so we had to travel to the mainland and back and then I got sick, so I was just super exhausted this week and wishing I felt better. Pero, okay lang because there were for sure good things in the week too! It is hard to be away from home at Christmas time and sorta hard to feel the Christmas spirit on a hot island with no snow, but I did for the first time this week! First when we were sitting and eating dinner in Legazpi and "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was playing (my favorite Christmas song). Then, at the mission office it was all decorated, and then the Elders after MLC were singing Christmas hymns. I'm trying to feel the Christmas spirit! Maybe when I get to make that phone call home on Christmas day! I can hardly wait!! 

At MLC President Guanzon shared the scripture Ether 12:27. This as always been one of my favorite scriptures, but the things he said about it gave me a new perspective about it. It says that as we come unto Him, or as we draw closer to God he will show us our weaknesses. So as we become closer to out Heavenly Father we will have more trials and challenges because he will show us our weaknesses. Because he wants us to be stronger and more humble. So trails are a blessing. This is something I have been thinking a lot about this week. Trying to take trails in a positive way and use them to make myself more humble and align my will with God's will for me. 
We didn't get to teach as much this week since we had to travel, but we still saw many miracles! Marilyn our investigator has been reading the Book of Mormon morning and night! She knows it is true and when we invited her to be baptized she said "siyempre," which means "of course."  I also celebrated my 6 month mark this week! Which is a miracle, I never thought the day would come! It has been creepily fast, but at the same time I feel like I have been in the Philippines for a lifetime. I am thankful for the gift of tongues though. My only goal was to feel confident with the language by the time I reached 6 months and through a lot of prayer and study and headaches I finally feel confident with the language and not scared to open my mouth anymore. 

Our branch really struggles here in Masbate. The past two weeks have been a little bit of a disaster. Missionaries along with our 25 year old branch president basically do everything. We had a meeting last night with all the missionaries in our branch to try and come up with a plan to help out the branch. It needs a lot of help, and it for sure makes me thankful for my ward at home! I was frustrated with it and with the leaders, but then I was thinking about how these members are really pioneers for the church here and it is amazing that they have 4 branches here on this island! So even though it struggles, I am just thankful that the work is moving forward! 

This week me and my companion had a sad experience at Jolley Bee. Who would have thought? But we are sitting there eating our food and looking out the window and watching all these little kids begging for money. It was so sad. There are basically wearing rags and have dirt all over them. It was breaking my heart. Then later in the week we found out that they are orphans work for this man that send them out to beg for money and then they bring the money back to him. It broke my heart. They have no home, no family, and yet they were happy. They were all out front of Jolley Bee playing with each other and laughing. I just knew that no matter how hard they had it, God loves them and knows their potential. It just made me thankful for everything I have. I really can't complain. 

To end on a funny note, me and my companion are walking along and we see this lady sitting in her doorway reading the pamphlet we had given to her...and a big cigarette is hanging out of her mouth. It was so ironic and we were dying laughing. I will always regret not taking a picture. I tried, but then she saw us so I never got it. Oh the things you see in the Philippines. Gotta love it! 

I love you all and miss you! Enjoy the Christmas season! Especially the snow and lights! 

-Sister Gardner

12/16/13 Peace

Masaya Pasko! Nothing screams Christmas like hotter than hot weather, palm trees, pig heads, brown outs, rice, bucket showers, crocs, and tracting! 

This week has been crazy busy and I am so exhausted! So we decided at the beginning of the week that we wanted to beat our 50 lessons even if it was 51. I don't know why we do this to ourselves, but we do. Then we had district meeting on Thursday and one of the Elders in our district in his prayer as a joke said "please bless Sister Lang and Sister Gardner to get 60 lessons" to bug us because he knew we wanted to get 51...So then we were like okay you want to challenge we were determined and we ended up getting 61. It was hard, and a lot of walking, and a lot of tracting, but it was awesome! It kept us busy during this Christmas season...or the season that all missionaries sit and think of home if they aren't keeping themselves busy. We saw a lot of miracles from working hard this week and we found a lot of awesome people to teach! And some strange people...

My testimony of the power of the Book of Mormon has really been strengthened this week. Our investigator Marilyn told us she knows the Book of Mormon is true and has been reading it every night and morning. She said it has answers to her questions and brings her peace. Then we gave a Book of Mormon to our investigator Juna and when we stopped by to say hi to her yesterday she said she reads it whenever her kids are sleeping. She said the assignment we gave her was too short and next time we need to give her more to read. So awesome! Now for the best of all...So I don't remember if I have mentioned him..but we are teaching a preacher in the Pentacostal Church. His name is Roeal and his church is attached to his house. So he is pretty strong in his faith...but don't doubt the power of the Holy Ghost and the power of the Book of Mormon. So we went to teach him yesterday and he told us the believes that the Book of Mormon is true! He had been reading and he said it is "true like the Bible." He said he still hasn't gotten a sure answer to his prayer about Joseph Smith though. We explained that if the Book of Mormon is true, it means Joseph Smith is a prophet. He said to us "say that someone knew the Book of Mormon is true, and Joseph Smith was a prophet- could they still believe but keep going to their church?" We explained the authority that our church has for saving ordinances and asked why that would make any sense if he knew it was true? He said that change is hard. He was Catholic, then it was hard when he became Pentacostal and he has been for 30 years, and then he stopped, but I think I know where he was going... He is so awesome! I couldn't stop smiling! It is amazing to see him start to change! He still has some problems and we still have a lot to teach him, but he is starting to gain a testimony! He asked us if we have any drinks or foods that aren't allowed. When we told him about the Word of Wisdom he said he didn't have a problem with any of it and so we said "parang Mormon" (basically Mormon) and then he said "magiging Mormon" (will become Mormon) but then he said Joke Lang...but not Joke Lang. He saw my quadruple combination and said he wants one. He was to intrigued with the bible dictionary and topical guide and he said he wants his Bible and Book of Mormon is one book like me haha. And he can't wait to see our hymn book next week. He is so interested in every little thing. I really hope he will be able to have the courage to accept the fulness of the gospel into his life! 

This week we also had Evelyn and Sarah accept baptismal dates! Annalyn our investigator told us she knows our Church is true and she knew the first time we taught her because she got chills during the opening prayer. Miracles are happening! 

So this week I have been thinking a lot about peace. It seems like each person we teach has these problems that are so awful and sad and most of the time I just feel like there really is nothing I can do to help them. I am 20 years old and I have NO idea how they feel. For example, 14 year old Jerome who can't go to school or church because he has to work to support and feed his entire family. But something I do have is the Restored Gospel. The gospel brings peace. Maybe it won't completely change their circumstances, but it can bring peace and hope through any trial. Elder Nielson's talk at the Christmas Devotional about finding peace through the Savior went right a long with my thoughts this week. I also thought about the peace that comes from a knowledge of God's plan for us. Sometimes the only thing that gets me through a really hard day on the mission is knowing that what is now, is not forever. I will not forever be sweating my face off walking from door to door and speaking in a crazy language. The same thing can come from a knowledge of the Plan of Salvation. Whatever trials we face on earth or whatever our circumstances, it will not forever be. One day we will return to our loving Heavenly Father and if we are righteous here on earth we will experience eternal happiness. That has really changed the way I present the Plan of Salvation to these people that have close to nothing and it gives me hope for them. 

As I have been trying to feel the Christmas spirit, I have been thinking about how that can be possible when all the things that I have ever associated with Christmas are absent. I read a few talks by the first presidency and realized that many of the things I associate with Christmas probably don't have to do with what Christmas really is about. I read one talk that talked about how the way we can feel the Christmas spirit the most is by becoming more Christlike and doing the things that Christ would do if he were here on the earth. So maybe this year will be the closest I ever get to the Christmas spirit as I go from house to house teaching the people of the Philippines about Christ and about His plan for us and how we can return to Him. I know it sounds cliche, but I hope that you all find ways to feel the real spirit of Christmas and not get to caught up in the craziness of the season!
I'll leave you with one of my favorite things that happened this week- we were sitting in our apartment studying one night and all of the sudden we hear these two little voices outside singing Christmas songs. It was two little girls caroling! It made my night! They helped me feel the Christmas spirit! 

I love and miss you all! 

-Sister Gardner