Monday, December 30, 2013

Week 3 in Mahajunga

We had a wonderful call with Michael Christmas morning.  We even put off opening presents until after the call.  Of course, the call was really early in the morning….

Here’s a picture of Michael on the big screen—looking as great as ever.


Ok, now, back to Michael, and some good spiritual lessons!

Subject:  “Extra chocolate!”

"... on the side."

We had a pretty good Christmas here, and life has been going pretty good. I also got Mom and Dad's package on Friday, so we've been eating a lot of that. I also found a Christmas Rubix Cube, which has been causing me many a headache. I can only solve one side completely, and then all of another side except for a corner, and then I get stuck. But I shall solve it!

I also got the Brazilian candy that y'all sent, and it's way good. I might add though that Gabby's last name sounds like an advanced school for extra smart kids. Like, "the Pribil Academy for the More Talented and Superior".

Anyway, things here are going really great. We are doing very well here, and it seems like there is even greater potential for the church here in Mahajanga. So now there's a lot of streamlining to do.

Here's a random thought for you all. A lot of people (basically everybody) consider the Fall of Adam to be a terrible thing that we need to repent for. But members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know better.

First of all, if I commit a crime, is my son going to prison for it? No. I would. We are not guilty because of the sins of our parents or others. Only for our own.

Second, what happened from the Fall of Adam? It basically breaks down as follows:

Good: 1) We receive bodies, and 2) we can be tested and show our desires to follow God.

Bad: 1) We all must die, and 2) we are separated from God.

We learn however, from that Brad Wilcox talk that I have now probably listened to at least thirty times, that Jesus Christ erased the effects of the Fall of Adam for everybody. "We will ALL be resurrected, we will ALL be brought into God's presence".

So the only thing that happens to us because of the Fall, in the long run, is the good stuff. We are not born into this world as sinners that need to repent, but as children of God that can progress.

Long story short: Fall of Adam = Good.

Side note: understanding this helps us understand that God is truly all-knowing. God is not some thirsty little child that found a water balloon and thought, "I'll pop this a get a drink!", only to find that popping it would lose him the contents. He already knew, from the very beginning, before the water balloon was even filled up (or created, for that matter) that the only way to drink from it would be to pop it. And He provided a solution to the problem BEFORE the problem existed. What I'm trying to get at here is that Latter-Day Saints believe in a more omnipotent God, than those with opposing ideas. And I would rather believe in and follow a smart, perfect person than someone who is less than that.

Anyway, I'm sure most of you already knew that, and probably drilled it into my head since the day I was born, but it's finally starting to sink in. And about time.

But that's what a mission is for, right?

Things are still going pretty well with the people that we are teaching here. Especially yesterday. We taught that yelling lady again, and she was much more quiet, and listened. We talked about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the member with us was very helpful.

That member showed up in Mahajanga at the same time that I did, except that he was coming back from his mission in Congo. He's also SUPER good at English, which I think is awesome. I have great respect for people that care enough about English (and themselves, for that matter) to learn a language that can help them in life. Coincidentally, he also said that I'm pretty good at Malagasy, so... *confidence boost!*

We also taught this guy named Donna, who is really cool. He met the missionaries as they were walking by, and he asked them about the church. HE asked THEM. Why can't more people be like that?? Anyway, he now has a pretty good understanding of the Plan of Salvation, and he's just a stud.

For those of you that are wondering about Madagascar's customs for Christmas and New Years, here's a little info:

The Malagasy Christmas is celebrated by going to church for a while, whether one or two hours, or longer, and then they go home and have a big meal as a family. They also might dance around or have a party in or near their house, just enjoying the vacation.

New Years is a little weird. First of all, they DON'T watch the ball drop in Times Square. How weird is that??

But they do just have a big party, mainly in their homes and mostly with their families. Some of the people in our English class were telling me that you can just wander from one house to another and party it up with all the people that you don't know.

So it boils down to partying with family, or friends, or strangers. They just like to party.

I predict that New Years will be much less exciting for Elder Rakotonjanahary and me. Going out to teach, coming home in the evening, maybe eating a cheesecake. It is noteworthy, however, that our new year will come nine or ten hours before all of yours, so... perhaps it's not that noteworthy. Just a fact.

Anyway, life here is going great, and we are enjoying life. And I hope you all are too, wherever you may be, and whatever you may be doing.

"Where ere thou art, act well thy part"

Merry Christmas, and happy New Years!

- Elder Arrington

PS: Mom and Lindsay, thank you for your missionary efforts. Keep up the good work!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Week 2 in Mahajunga

Now we’re counting down to Michaels Christmas call.  Getting only two calls each year (Christmas and Mother’s Day) makes each call a big deal.  But before we get there, here’s Michael’s letter from 2-days before…

Subject:  “You mean you don’t know, or ‘you can’t say’?”

Ah, P-day. A nice chance to relax, kick back, take it easy and just enjoy life. Right?


Don't get me wrong, we've had tons of fun. It's just been really busy.

We started off this morning when we walked out of our house, met a few of our branch missionaries and a recent convert, and we all got on a bus to check out some caves. Which was way fun, and we got some pictures from it.

Then we came to the cyber, printed off emails, went to a hotely for lunch, and ran back to the house to change clothes.

From there we ran back out to the city to meet somebody for their wedding. A huge event, right?


Six people showed up, including the couple getting married, Elder Rakotonjanahary and myself.

So we got there just before 2 o'clock, since the ceremony was planned for 2 o'clock. We sat down and started waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

We called the couple, to ask if they were coming yet, and they said the were on the road on their way. We called again half an hour later and they said they were just leaving their house. Now there's some backwards progress for you.

Anyway, they finally showed up at 3:30, shook our hands, and walked into the room with the person that would marry them.

At 4:00 they walked out, shook our hands, took two pictures, and left. So that's a Malagasy wedding for you.

P1050389And after a series of unfortunate events, we made it to the cyber. I was kind of excited to upload our pictures from the caves that we checked out, so I plugged my camera card in, copied one picture over and... all of my pictures from that card got deleted. Or maybe not really deleted. I'm not really sure how, but all of the pictures from the card now show up as one file, and my camera says that there are no pictures when I plug the card in.

But we got the one picture, and most of the other important ones are already on the server, so no worries.

Anyway, that's enough about the craziness of today. This week has been really good, and we are pretty happy with how the area is going. Probably my favorite member right now is a recent convert named Ulrich.

He is about 18 years old, and just as diligent as a person gets. Ulrich is, as far as I know, the only member in his family, and attends church, Preach My Gospel classes, and English class. He's just a way good guy that I love to work with. Just a random thought for you.

We had a lesson with this lady that was pretty ridiculous yesterday. She would ask a question, and in the middle of our answering it she would yell for us to be quiet, and then re-explain her question, and why it was stupid that we hadn't already explained it. So we started answering it again, and she did the same thing.

The Bible explains the fruits of the Spirit to be peace, joy, faith, etc. That's how the Holy Ghost bears witness. What it doesn't say is that the Holy Ghost doesn't just pop in and throw down peace for everybody. You have to set up the situation for it. Then He can increase that peace, that happiness that you are sharing. He has a difficult time throwing out new things. He acts on what WE put out there.

So when teaching, you have to do your best to lay out the fruits of the Spirit, letting the investigator know that you care about them, the joy that you have received from living the true gospel, and THEN the Holy Ghost can bear testimony that it is true, to both the teacher and the student.

Gee, if only I had known this earlier!

I guess I'm still learning.

One last thing. Elder Rakotonjanahary is awesome. He is just one of those classy, funny people that's awesome. For example, he asked the other day if I knew which path we are supposed to take to get to our next appointment. I pointed to the one I thought and said, "it's that way, right?". He shook his head, pointed in exactly the opposite direction and said, "almost right."

Just a funny guy. Apparently he also came to Madagascar at the same time as me, so we're the same "age". Cool, eh?

So that's been my week. And we're looking forward to another good one.

Merry Christmas everybody!

- Elder Arrington

Monday, December 16, 2013

Week 1 in Mahajunga

A new area where it’s hot and humid.  And some new chances to use his talents!

Subject:  "All you have to do is get the floom!"

First of all, it sounds like Dad has some serious "I told you so" rights against Intel. Just for the record, I was entirely for the Intel PAD.

As for me, I've officially said goodbye to all the awesome people back in Sabotsy Namehana. We had some good times there.

P1050150But that's change for you. After a twelve hour bus ride, that was actually not that unpleasant, I'm here in Mahajunga. The weather is humid as none other, and I'm told that it only gets hotter. Awesome.

We also went to church, and I got to see something that I'm not used to seeing at church: MEN. The mission has been pushing us to focus on teaching men, and I've been trying to do that. Back in Sabotsy Namehana that was difficult, because men were never at home. Or seen at all. But here, there are men EVERYWHERE. I'm pretty sure the population is like 90 percent men. And all of our investigators are either men or families, so the missionaries that worked in Mahajunga before did way good. I'm way happy about that.

On the other hand, I have a sad story. Growing up, my mom had always told me to practice the piano, and learn to play hymns, because there would come a day in my life, on my mission, when I be serving out in the middle of nowhere, and I would be the only person there that could play hymns for church. And I always said, "silly mom, that happens to other people. Not to me."

P1050159And guess who found himself sitting at an electric keyboard yesterday, praying like heck that he wouldn't butcher the hymns?


And then magically, just before the meeting started the power went out. I was like, "Waaaa! There IS a God! And He is merciful!"

Unfortunately He also has a sense of humor, because the power kicked back on right the sacrament. And there was still a rest hymn and closing hymn to go.

In short, I'm not entirely proud of my performance, but I plan to practice a bit more before next Sunday and do much better.

P1050171Other than that, we have been teaching some SUPER cool people. And tons of them. It's kind of like all the cool people that I taught in Sabotsy Namehana, but
almost EVERYBODY is that cool. I'm loving it.

There are exceptions however. For instance, we were teaching this one man, his wife, their niece, and her father about baptism, and they got into a huge debate about it, yelling, mainly at each other. Everybody staying good humored, but yelling nonetheless.

The husband, Pommefille, is Catholic. The niece and her father are Adventist. And the lady, Josiene, doesn't go to any church and hasn't been baptized. The Catholic guy started shouting that he was already baptized as a baby, so he is saved. The Adventist people shouted that his baptism wasn't complete since he was just a baby and it wasn't be immersion, and the lady was yelling louder than anybody, basically just summarizing what the other people said for no reason whatsoever. I was like, " what?"

P1050173We quieted them all down and then said that arguing is useless and we (everybody there) need to learn GOD's will about it, not a church's.

(Because if they do that then they will see that our church is the true one)

So that was a fun lesson.

My companion, Elder Rakotonjanahary, is also super awesome. He's a short little Malagasy from Antsirobe, and just a way cool guy.

Especially in teaching. He know how to switch off, and of course he is good at the language. Quite a shift for me since I just came from training a newbie. So we've just been dominating the people that we teach. In a good, spiritual way.
I'm pretty sure that Elder Rakotonjanahary is good at English, but he only speaks with me in Malagasy for some reason. I've offered to speak English with him, but he politely declined. Maybe he just doesn't want to have to teach English class.

P1050248Which reminds me, English class last Saturday blew my mind. There were seven or eight people there (all men), all of which could hold a solid conversation in English. They got into a debate about whether or not there should be bribes here in Madagascar. And they DOMINATED it. I was very impressed.

Next week's debate subject will be whether or not people need alcohol. The votes lay as follows: 2 say that we do need alcohol, 4 say that we do not. One of the guys that is for alcohol asked me if I had drunk before, and I said no. And this little punk worked up the nerve to say that I was lying!

He said, "your mission leaders just tell you to say that. But really, you used to drink all the time." He also claimed that EVERYBODY in America drinks all the time, because that's where alcohol was originally invented. Which is not true.

I still don't think he believes me, but I'm glad to know that there are nonmembers that are still against alcohol.

P1050273All in all, Mahajunga is way awesome. The only slight downside is the temperature, but hey, if that is the only trade-off, I'm down for it!

Thank you all, I love you all, keep up the good work!

- Elder Arrington

PS: Mom, I love hearing about your missionary efforts. And did you manage to, um, pass along the pass-along card?

PSS: A quick note about the pictures that I sent. There is a picture of Mamy (our DMB) and his family, of which about half are members. There is also a picture of the staff of a restaurant at which we used to eat. And there are pictures of Jaona and his family and our branch president and his family.

P1050276There is also a picture of me leaving my old house, and the people in it are, from left to right: Elder Stokes (my ex-trainee), Elder Rakotomalala (Elder Stokes' new companion, who was in my house when I first came in country), me, and Elder Hamm (my MTC companion). Good times.

And I threw in a couple pictures that I took as we came across the beach, at an area that I call "Tortuga". It's just very piratey.

The last picture is of some sweet houses here. Which is cool.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Week 33 in Sabotsy Namehana

Transfer time!  I’ll bet Michael misses Sabotsy Namehana.  His new area is a 7-hour drive from Antananarivo (or 45-min plane ride—I wonder how he’ll get there?)  It’s a port city on the North West of Madagascar….

Subject:  "It's a Japanese Jolteon!"

I will officially be leaving Sabotsy Namehana this transfer, going to... (drum roll)


To help you all understand how incredibly awesome this is, let me liken the island of Madagascar to a cake. The center is good, and nobody would complain for getting the center. The edges, however, are far more desirable. That's where the extra frosting is.

Mahajunga, click to see larger mapIn the Madagascar mission, there are three areas that are craved above the rest. Fort Dauphin, Toliara, and Mahajunga. All three right on the beach. Everybody is content with serving in the middle of the island, but those three is "where it's at". So, I'm way happy about this transfer.

And my companion there will be another Malagasy elder, who's name escapes me. But I'll send it next week.

Elder Stokes is also getting a Malagasy companion, named Elder Rakotomalala. Elder Rakotomalala was in the same house with me when I first showed up in country. He's a way cool Malagasy, and they'll have an awesome time.

But enough about transfers! This week we also had Elder Renlund of the Seventy stop by and conduct several zone conferences, one of which I got to attend. It was way good. As an introduction to the zone conference we were asked to read three talks by David A Bednar, which were all way good. And after the meeting we had sandwiches, which were also very good.

P1050050All in all, it was all very good.

One of the biggest things that I realized is the connection between faith, action, and receiving a witness. Elder Bednar describes it as a spiralling helix, going up and up, expanding wider and wider.

Once you have real faith, you will act on it. When you act, God will provide a witness. In receiving a witness, your faith will grow and give you a greater desire and ability to act, thus receiving a greater witness, and so on.

A large part of that is what Elder Bednar calls "acting in faith". We are probably all familiar with the idea of praying and asking in faith, hoping that we will receive. But a very large, yet overlooked part of asking in faith is ACTING in faith. If you have faith that you will be blessed, but don't act on that, then you will not receive.

P1050054Coincidentally, there is a Malagasy phrase that fits right in with that: manao ari-zatom-pandriana. It basically means "a hundred ariary on the bed", referring to a person who lies on their bed, hoping that they will get money, but don't act.

The long story short is, when you pray, try making a commitment with God for everything for which you ask. If you ask for missionaries to see more success, go out and look for somebody for them to teach. If you ask for greater peace in your home, play hymns throughout the day. If you ask for a blessing, commit to God that you will act to make it happen. And then God will make up for weaknesses and shortcomings.

To put it even shorter, there was a quote from somebody that goes something like this:
Pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on you.

So let's do that! All of us!

P1050056Even if we don't see the results right away. David shared a story about how he left one of his areas feeling like he didn't make that much of a difference. But just recently he found out that many of the people that he worked with are now enjoying the blessings of being active in the church.

Honestly, I don't feel like I've made too much of a difference here either, but who knows? You just work hard and hope for the best.

I have done some good here. We are teaching far more men now than we did before, and they are being diligent. I sent off a picture of Toky and Natasha and their son, all of which came to church for the first time yesterday. And they had a great time. Toky is a way cool guy, and I'll miss him.

Solo also came to church, but his wife and kids couldn't make it. Hopefully they'll come next week.

And I got a picture of Mamy, our DMB, his wife Oline, and their child who's name is unknown to me. They are a way good family.

P1050057I also had a picture with Frere Baly, a member of our branch presidency, but my camera card decided to wipe itself for no apparent reason. So that sucks. Good thing there was nothing super irreplaceable! (I already copied almost all the pictures onto a different card, sent a bunch of the pictures to the server, and the rest are pretty much just landscapes, so no harm done.)

I think I included a picture of Hanitra and her son Iry, who is holding up a sign that David recommended I use. It's been way helpful. Notice on the bottom the pictures of Elder Stokes, Mamy, and myself. Hanitra and Iry thought it was hilarious, and it sits taped up on their wall between lessons. The two of them have been way diligent at reading ever since that paper went up on the wall.

That's pretty much all I have for today. The next time you hear from me, I'll be in Mahajunga (the frosting of Madagascar)!


- Elder Arrington

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week 32 in Sabotsy Namehana

More baptism interviews!  And a little missionary baseball thanks to Elder Stokes!  It sounds like Michael will be leaving Sabotsy Namehana before long, and maybe to someplace really cool.  We should find out soon!

Subject: "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all."

So Elder Stokes has invented this version of baseball that we can play in the house. All it involves is a pitcher, batter, ball, and a bat. We found some random plastic ball around the house, and just use a water bottle as a bat. Elders Stokes and Carrus and myself have gotten into something of a tournament, to see who the best player is. So far, I think each of us have won one tournament.

It's a fun way to pass the time on P-days.

We've also found these things called "Igloo"s which is basically a bag of frozen yogurt. A bunch of epiceries in our area sell them, for 200 Ariary (10 cents), so Elder Stokes and I buy them fairly often.

As some of you may remember, I am currently the district leader here, so I've been running around doing baptism interviews at every chance I get. Take yesterday for example.

There were no busses in the morning, or taxis, so we ended up having to walk all the way to church. Which is really far. We made it for the last half of testimony meeting, and then had to turn right back around and go to the Analamahitsy church. Fortunately there was a bus.

The Analamahitsy elders had told us that they had four people to be interviewed, so I got started right away. Then the APs showed up and mentioned that they also have somebody that is moving into that ward and also needs to get interviewed. Then it turns out that two of the baptizees from Analamahitsy actually weren't married yet (so why do they have a baptism date for this week?) so they didn't get interviewed.

In short, I interviewed three people, and all of them passed. We are still going on splits today so that the Ivandry elders can have four people interviewed, and that should be all for a while. Still, it's really fun listening to how ready some people are to get baptized.

One quick story. I was interviewing a man for Analamahitsy, and he mentioned that he used to be a Jehovah's Witness. His wife gave him a bunch of pamphlets and a Book of Mormon, and encouraged him to study them. Finally, AFTER HE HAD DECIDED TO GET BAPTIZED, he called up the missionaries to start teaching him. So they came over, taught him for a month, and now he's getting baptized. How cool is that!

We visited a less active member on Wednesday. His name is Raymond Marcel. He went inactive because of how some of the members were treating him and his family, and he's just tired of it. Raymond Marcel is now asking to meet with the stake president to sort out the problems. He wants to come back, but he's just tired of how the members don't take the gospel seriously. It's that sin of being lukewarm, and it really offends RM.

Anyway, we happened to be talking to Elder and Sister Cloward (a senior couple here in Mada) about Raymond Marcel, and they offered to come help us out. Perfect!

(Raymond Marcel's house is also an hour long walk after the end of the bus line, and the Cloward's have a car, so having them with us had extra benefits.)

Anyway, we got there, and Elder Cloward explained how his father had gone inactive earlier in his life after somebody had wronged him in church, later regretted it, and regretted not having all the blessings that the gospel brings. In Elder Cloward's family, part are members and part are not. Those who are members have good, solid lives with very few problems. Those who are not active members have many more problems, with kids into drugs and drinking and smoking and their families are just falling apart.

Elder Cloward just explained that the blessings of the gospel are so easy to see in his family, and he asked Raymond Marcel to come back. RM said that he will, eventually. I really hope that he does.

So that was a pretty cool experience. Plus I got to translate almost the whole thing, which was also cool. Just a really good experience.

On a lighter note, I also went on splits with the Ankorandrano elders, leaving me with Elder Razazaravohana in Ankorandrano, during which time I learned the Malagasy word for rainbow. Havana. So that's cool. We also walked for about a billion miles in that area. The poor missionaries there just have a huge area to cover. Fortunately their ward is way nice, and their bishop just got back from his own mission a year or two ago, so they are set. Some bikes might help them, but they are getting along with what they have.

Subject change. I've printed off our family picture and started showing it to our investigators, challenging them to find me. They point and guess, and finally I just show them. And they think that it is SO funny! This one girl couldn't stop laughing for fifteen minutes.

As for a quick weather report, yes, Dad is right about Madagascar's seasons when he said that "Madagascar has two seasons.  Hot and rainy, and mild and cool." We are now entering the hot and rainy one, so I walk out each day with short sleeves and an umbrella.

On that note, I was told by the assistants (both of which started their missions in Sabotsy Namehana) that I have "good things coming" this transfer. Which I would guess means I'll be going to Fort Dauphin, Toliara, or Mahajunga, all of which are blistering hot. Especially Mahajunga. But the missionary work there is flying and the people are way nice, so a little heat is bearable!

And just like that, I'm out of things to talk about. Next week I'll let you know how transfers work out. It's probably about time that I get transferred out, although I do love knowing the area so well. All the members, all the roads, and just everything. But when it's time, it's time.

Thank you all for your love and support, and especially the support that you are giving to your missionaries in your own wards.

Keep up the good work!

- Elder Arrington

PS: The black guy with the white shirt in the picture from last week is named Mamy. He is our branch mission leader, and probably my favorite Malagasy ever. Just a hilarious guy, that helps us out whenever he can. And WAY good at soccer. We love Mamy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Week 31 in Sabotsy Namehana

Michael’s focus is impressive.  He seems to be working hard and his investigators are becoming more diligent. That's what it's all about, right?

This week, we sent Michael our new family picture.  This pic includes everyone in the family, and to represent Michael, we included King Julien from Madagascar.  He’s photoshopped right into the picture.  Now, that’s fun.

Speaking of pictures, we got one of Michael.  He’s the tall one.

Subject:  "If you have time to lean, you have time to clean."

If you don't know what that's from, try reading it "in a lower register".

P1040927So... some of you may remember our investigator named Benjamin. Yeah, he totally drop talked us this last week. Out of nowhere. We had come to his house on Monday, and he wasn't there (apparently off drinking). They couldn't learn on Wednesday, and when Friday rolled around, Benjamin sat us down and just said, "So I've been thinking about what you guys have been saying, and I think I just want to stay Catholic." What??

We tried asking his wife and 25 year old daughter what they thought, since they had actually been reading and diligent, but Benjamin wouldn't hear of it. He said, "I am the father of the household, so what I say goes. Don't bother asking them." I hate hearing that. And it's unfortunately common here.

By the way, Benjamin's wife and daughter just stared at him angrily for the rest of the night, so we're pretty sure they were on our side.

On the bright side, however, Benjamin said that he would read the Book of Mormon later and let us know what he thought about it. So that made us a little more happy, and we secretly committed ourselves to check up with him now and then to be sure that he's reading.

Back on the downside, we've bumped into Benjamin twice since that lesson, and he's been drunk both times. So... we'll see where that goes.

And let's slide back onto the bright side. Toky and his wife are still learning really well, and they loved watching the Joseph Smith story. That's right. We showed them the movie. As soon as it ended, Toky said, "turn it back to when the angels show up!" Well, they're not just angels, but okay. The idea that God the Father and Jesus Christ showed up to Joseph Smith, and not just angels, is difficult for people to understand. But the bottom line is: they enjoyed the movie, and understand the Restoration better than before.

And they keep promising to come to church. They had some responsibilities at their own church this last week, so they "couldn't come to God's true church", but they are planning to come this next week.

They are also good friends with our branch mission leader, Mamy, who goes with us to teach them three times per week. Sweet. Elder Stokes and I got a couple pictures with them.

And speaking of church, Solo and Bodo finally came! They have been way diligent at reading so far, and promised to come to church last week. And then they didn't. Apparently one of their kids wouldn't come to ours, and said that they wouldn't go to church at all if the parents didn't come with them. That's the spirit, eh? Especially since this "child" is currently married and living on her own.

Anyway, that was the problem last week. But we talked to them about it, and they promised to come! And then they actually did! Elder Stokes and I were pretty happy about that. And just to make everything even better, the branch president went up and met with them right after sacrament meeting, all on his own, and then a member couple swarmed about Solo and Bodo and just befriended the heck out of them. Our branch may be small, but it's powerful as... King Jake? I don't know how many of you remember (or ever knew) the Packard's cat, but that was one royal little furball.

Suffice it to say, Elder Stokes and I were very pleased with how the branch accepted in new people. Now if we could just get the rest of our investigators to come to church too!

There was one family that I was pretty concerned about, because they met us one time and "haven't had time" to meet again. Their names are Onja and Tolotra, and one of their moms. Ones of their mom. One of theirs mom? How do you say that?

The couple seemed really interested, but the grandma is the one that always answers the phone and the door, and keeps telling us that they don't have time. So we figured that she just didn't want the family to learn.

Then, yesterday, she opens the door and just lets us in! And what's more, she had read the pamphlet that they had been given, and we talked about it. And then set up a return appointment when the whole family can be there.

We were really concerned that they would just not learn anymore, but it looks like they might keep going! Which makes us really happy. Goodness knows that we need more families to teach.

Last note about investigators. Jaona is that giant kickboxer guy that threw his beer in my face. Fortunately, he has been consistently not drunk all the times that we have gone to him this last week, and his family also enjoyed watching the Restoration video. Jaona kept looking back at us and nodding in agreement when the voice of the film said things like, "I knew that God could not be the author of so much confusion."

We keep committing him to come to church, but he keeps pushing it off. But we'll get him in the end.

That's pretty much all I have to say for this week. We are working hard, and our investigators are starting to be more diligent. That's what it's all about, right?

I love you all, except for Elder Stokes....

- Elder Arrington

PS: We love the family picture. A lot.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Week 30 in Sabotsy Namehana

Yes, week 30.  That’s pretty close to 7 months in the same city for Michael.  But Michael remains diligent, as are many of his investigators.  Some are not so diligent….  Michael got to interview several people for baptism in his district-leader role.  Almost all of them passed.  Almost all. 

Subject:  "I have been studying her comings and goings and find them most... sinister."

I don't know if I have mentioned Toky and Natasha to any of you yet, but they are an awesome couple. They have both been diligent at reading and following up on commitments, and we are really happy about them. The only problem is that they aren't coming to church yet, but hey, everybody has problems. In general, we are very happy with how they are progressing.

Especially since Toky used to be big into drinking and smoking weed. Then, right before he met us, he decided to quite, and he did. And he is very happy now because of that.
And Toky also told us some pretty interesting stories about himself and his family while we were over last night. Here's my favorite one.

Back when Toky smoked weed there was a man that came to his door to give him weed. This was odd because Toky believes that man to be a witch. Anyway, the guy gives the weed and walks away, and Toky sits down to roll one up.

Right as he is about to roll it the wind blows his door in, and blows all of the weed on the ground. So he didn't get to smoke it.

And that same thing happened a second time. Toky is given weed by the same guy, and as he gets ready to roll it, the wind blows it away.

Toky told us this story to describe that God was watching over him. Whereas Toky had smoked weed before, he figured that if he smoked this witch-guy's weed, it might have done some serious damage. Shortly thereafter, Toky quite smoking altogether. And drinking too.

I'm not so sure about this witchcraft business, but it very well could have been God's hand that was knocking Toky's weed to the ground. What happened there helped Toky decide to improve himself and his life, even before he met the missionaries.

Toky will also tell you that he used to fight with his wife all the time, but ever since he quite drinking and smoking (and gambling, for that matter) they have gotten along splendidly. Just living the Word of Wisdom helps families be happier.

He also mentioned that here in Madagascar, owls are considered "the birds of witches". So that's weird.

But enough of that. We also taught Josoa, who is pretty much progressing on his own now. His un-diligent wife is the only reason that he isn't baptized yet. In our last lesson with him, Josoa asked if he could go to seminary or institute, since he likes learning about the gospel so much.

Of course you can good sir!

Our kickboxer friend, who's name is Jaona, is also doing well. He came to the church on Saturday to watch the Restoration film, which we had forgotten to bring. But we'll be bringing the film to Jaona's house so that he and his family can watch it there.

As things went though, he and his daughter just learned English from us, since we had English class at that time anyway. So that was good too.

We stopped by this guy named Christian during this last week, since he keeps saying that he'll come to church, and then doesn't. But then, yesterday, there he was, at church! He left immediately after sacrament meeting though, and we found him smoking. But it's a start.

We also had to leave our church after sacrament meeting, because I, being a new district leader, had some baptism interviews to do. In three wards, at two different buildings. And Elder Stokes, as the Assistant (to the) District Leader, had to follow along.

The good news is that four out of the five people passed with flying colors. The bad news is that there was one that didn't pass. She is an 18 year old girl that just didn't seem ready. And I told her that. But don't worry, I did it kindly.

It turns out, however, that that girl is clinically depressed, and her baptism had been one of the things that had kept her going. So I guess that getting shut down in the interview didn't help things. But the missionaries will keep working with her and hopefully she'll be ready when the next interview comes.

Side note: the people that passed included a way diligent 18 year old girl, and 10 year old son of an active mother and inactive father, a 45 year old father/doctor, and a 25 year old named Tony. The last two did especially well. Tony also does this thing when he talks, where he'll answer a question and then say "mhm!" as if to verify his own answer. It's funny.

We also went on splits with the zone leader this week, who was in my MTC group. The zone leader, Elder Evans, worked with Elder Stokes in my old area, Ambohimanarina, while I stayed in Sabotsy Namehana with Elder Randriamamonjisoa, who is Malgasy but speaks WAY good English. Like, native-and-a-half. Way to be for him.

During those splits, we visited a less-active named Eugene. The guy is like 65, and has been having some problems with his legs. So Elder Randriamamonjisoa listened to the issue and said, "you know what? I'm actually a pretty good masseuse (person that does massages, right?). Do you want my to give you a massage?". And before I know it, there's a 65 year old dude taking his shirt off, and a missionary getting ready to massage him.

Apparently he did a pretty good job.

There was nothing too awkward, except for some other guy walking in during the massage that started talking to us and mentioned that he wants us to teach him the gospel. So that was pretty weird. But hey, it's another new investigator.

I've also started my own personal stat regarding contacts, that I call "GHB". That is to say "Guys Holding Babies". Mission president wants us to teach families, especially focusing on the fathers. So I figure that if you contact a bunch of men that are holding babies, you'll either find a loving father, or an infant kidnapper.

Speaking of which, apparently a French guy and an Italian guy were beaten to death and burned here in Madagascar because they were kidnapping babies and selling their organs on the black market. So um... don't do that kind of stuff.

Anyway, that's pretty much all I can think of to say right now. The mission is great.

I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

Monday, November 11, 2013

Week 29 in Sabotsy Namehana

Ah, the experiences of a missionary!

Subject: "Beat it stupid cat!"

So if any drunk guy sticks a bottle in your face and says, "give it a wiff!", don't do it. That happened to me this week and I, not being smart enough to hold my breath, just about passed out on the spot. Alcohol smells horrible. Why would you want to put that in your body? Especially when you have cherry limeade as an alternative?

The guy that did that to me was one of our investigators, and he later apologized. Which was pretty cool. He is the kickboxing instructor that I mentioned, and he just seems like a really good guy. When he is sober. But we'll work on the drinking. Captain Kick-a-Box has been reading, and agrees with what he has read. Except for the Restoration, which he just doesn't understand yet. So we'll also work on that.

We've been teaching another guy with a drinking problem, named Benjamin. He and his family have been really diligent at reading so far, and always have questions to ask and are willing to listen to the answer. Golden. Benjamin has been drunk for a couple of the lessons, but he, when sober, is awesome. Just a way fun guy. And he's diligent with reading and planning to come to church, so all that's really left is to get him off of drinking. That shouldn't be too hard.

We did five drop talks this last week. Just people that are not ready to progress. They don't have the right priorities. Here's one of the most ridiculous (but true) examples:

David had been taught by the missionaries a while ago, but wouldn't come to church. Missionaries that used to work in Sabotsy Namehana told us about him, and we started teaching him again. Unfortunately, for about the last month, David has told us, every time that we contact him, that he is "too busy to learn". We would set up appointments, and he would cancel them. Every time.

Finally, we just stopped by his house to officially drop him. David met us at the door and we asked him if he could learn. He said that he couldn't because of his work. After a short conversation, we told him that it is not God telling him to work (instead of listening to missionaries, coming to church, etc.), but Satan. David responded by saying, "well, I don't see why that's a problem. My work has to take priority anyway, and if the devil is encouraging me to work, good for him."

So David got dropped. He's just not ready yet. But maybe other missionaries will get him, later on.

We have another investigator, named Anja, who has stopped learning from us. She pretty much yelled at us for postponing her baptism, but it was for the better. It turns out that she wanted to get baptized, but she is also planning to marry some guy from another church. Who is currently living with her. And apparently practices witchcraft. Anja is now, as she wrote in a note to us, "caught in apostasy". We don't really know what to do, because she is showing no signs of changing, although it seems that she doesn't really understand what she has been taught by the missionaries. So that's... not good.

So we have some drunk people, we have some people that are knowingly following the devil and think it's a good thing, and we've got some apostate ex-investigators. How's that for a gourmet table of negatives?

But that is why we have to learn to laugh.

Honestly though, the work has been going pretty well. The positives outweigh the negatives. For one, we are currently teaching people right near the church, instead of three or four miles away. We are also teaching lots of families, instead of just one or two random people. And those families are reading their homework, and planning to come to church. A week of drop talks is depressing, but it's like shaving your head and buying wigs. It opens you up to all kinds of new options.

By the way, I saw a wig shop earlier today. Just as a side-note.

We are also meeting a lot of new people that seem really willing to accept us and listen to us, which is really exciting. One of them is a new FJKM preacher, and we'll be going to battle against him tomorrow, with an RM member of our branch named Vonjy. Hopefully it won't be a battle, but I'll sharpen my sword just in case.

Thank you all for your emails and the pictures. I especially loved Stacey's "roadmap to our family". Mike's picture is probably my favorite, with David's at a close second, because he looks like Metroman. Although Elder Stokes says that he looks like Sydrome from the Incredibles. Stacey's makes her look like an Egyptian hieroglyph. Classy.

It sounds like every body has been having a great time at home, so keep up the good work. Elder Stokes and I are going to do our best to represent you all for this next week!

Arrington clan, I want you to know that I consider you to be seven of my closest friends and family members, and one very dear acquaintance.

Until next week,

- Elder Arrington

Monday, November 4, 2013

Week 28 in Sabotsy Namehana

The pictures we got this week are not of Michael, but of some pictures he’s apparently purchased.  Michael has been serving well in Sabotsy Namehana for a long time now—nearly 7 months and sounds like he’s still doing well.

Subject:  "It's the only building in Metrocity with a fake observatory!"

Yo listen up, here's a story. About a little guy that lives in a blue world...

Elder Carrus, the Italian that's living with us, came to me this morning and said, "you only have nine months left".

I laughed and said, "no, I still have... what the flip!?" I thought about that for a second. For some reason, my brain was still thinking that I had just passed my year mark, but that was apparently three months ago!

So I got pretty freaked out about that. But now it's time to, as mom says, "make every day count".

P1040904On that note, let's talk about the people. Elder Stokes and I have been teaching this guy named Faniry for a while now, and Faniry just won't progress. We give him assignments, check up on him, and he just won't do anything. Frustrating.

So we went to talk to him again this week, and, after a good long talk, he just said he doesn't want to learn anymore. He likes being Catholic, and doesn't want to change. And just like that, he asked us to stop coming to teach him. Ouch.

We actually spent a good portion of this week drop talking old investigators that aren't progressing. It's almost funny, because we inform them that we won't be returning anymore, and they get all sad. But then we brighten their day by saying that if they come to church, then we will come back to them. That gets them excited, and they promise that they'll come. And guess how many of them showed up at church this week?


But we also did some contacting, trying to find diligent investigators. We tracted out right near the church (because we had never thought to do that before) and found a few nice people, many of whom promised to come to church. Then Sunday rolled around and...


So you see where I'm going with this?

But this week hasn't been all bad. Honestly, we're pretty happy with the outcome. We got some good contacting done, and met some interesting people. One of my favorite is a kickboxing instructor.

P1040905We met him as we were stopping to pick up candy (to give to investigators that complete their homework) and we noticed this huge guy with a towel tied to his head staring at us. After a while, we say hello, and start talking.

It turns out that Huge Guy has talked to missionaries in the past, but they stopped coming to him after a while. We asked HG where he lives, and he pointed right behind the epicerie we were at. So we walked there, and found out that he is actually a pretty well off, with a nice house. His wife and kids weren't there at the time, but he promised to have them all together at the next lesson.

All in all, he seems like a way nice guy. We have gone back there one time so far, and his entire family actually seems really nice. HG has also promised to come to the church on Saturday to watch the Restoration film, and he and his family have been given a baptism date for January.

We have also been teaching Toky and his wife for a little bit, and they are progressing decently. We showed them the Restoration video at their house this week, and they liked it. It's clear that they didn't really understand it, but they liked it. We might try watching it again with them, pausing and talking about what's going on.

It was kind of funny though. After the film ended, Toky asked us to go back to "the part with the angels". For some reason, people have a really hard time understanding the whole "God the Father and Jesus Christ showed themselves to Joseph Smith. But Toky did like that part, and we think it helped them understand a bit better.

One last family that I want to talk about is that of Benjamin. Benjamin caught us last Monday on the street (smelling faintly of alcohol) and told us to come to his house, which was nearby. So we went. We have gone back two other times since then, and Benjamin, his wife, and his kids (there are three, each of which is married but still sharing a house with Benjamin) seem to be really cool.

P1040906Benjamin's wife is that person that reads the entire pamphlet between lessons, and comes back with questions. Good questions. And she listens to the answers. Benjamin has been a little slower in reading, but he listens to what we say. They also have a bap date in January.

Sorry, one last family. We met Solo and Bodo a long time ago, but "never had time to contact them". Finally there came a day when we could, and it's been awesome since then. Solo is now, after three weeks, almost done with 1-2 Nephi, and understands what he is reading. His wife and kids are also way diligent, reading at every chance that they get. They also have a bap date in January.

So all in all, we are pretty happy with how things are going here. We have also gotten some advice about other things that we could do to help our investigators, which we are planning to start applying this week.

And finally, I wish you all a grand time at this "Thanksmas" (or is it "Christgiving"?) family reunion. And send a picture!

Speaking of pictures, I had a problem with the server today (I'm pretty sure it's on my end, not yours) so I'm just emailing pictures. Here are three paintings that I bought today for about thirty dollars. For all three. Booyah.

Keep looking for missionary opportunities!

I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

PS: David, Elder Stokes and I saw that first picture of this Gabby and went "daaang!"

Monday, October 28, 2013

Week 27 in Sabotsy Namehana

Again, no transfer for Michael.  He’s been in the same city for more than half a year now.  But his experiences are always positive, except for that possible bubonic plague thing... 

It appears Michael is now district leader in Sabotsy Namehana.  The man is in charge!

Subject:  "If the game gets bigger than three on three they have to take it outside."

So we've been teaching this couple named Toky and Natasha for about two weeks now, and they seem to be progressing decently well. Except for the last lesson when they had only read the introduction to the First Book of Nephi, and understood it completely wrong (their homework had been to read chapter 1). They thought it meant that Lehi had a dream, some of his sons didn't like it, and all of them got kicked out of Jerusalem because they rebelled against Lehi's dream.

P1040816That being said, they DID read, which is something. And they promised to do better before our next lesson (tonight). We are also pretty happy that they are not completely shutting down the idea of being baptized in the church.

There was a guy last night that we tracted into that shut us down pretty good though. We had knocked on the door and explained that we are missionaries, and right away they guy goes, "wow, all the work you're doing is just great. You are really working to push forward God's kingdom. I really respect that. But I'm a Protestant, and you won't be able to convert me to your church."

We talked with him for a few minutes, trying to explain that he should at least LISTEN first, and then he can choose to shut us down. But, as Christ said in Matthew 7:20, "Koa dia ny voany no ahafantaranareo azy". It's going to be pretty hard to know if the missionaries have good or bad fruit if you don't listen to them first.

At the end, the guy just said, "look, I would never deny Christ, but I am denying you," and shut the door. Ouch.

So we weren't too happy about that.

Anyway, we wiped the dust from our feet (metaphorically and literally. It's kind of a running joke that we have with Mamy, our Branch Mission Leader) and walked off. Free agency sucks sometimes, but apparently you can't force people to repent and follow God.

But we have had some pretty good experiences this week too, like finding Onja and Tolotra.

We had been trying to check in on Solo, whom some of you may remember to be a preacher in the FJKM church that was progressing really well for a while. Then he couldn't understand authority, and hasn't talked with us since. Anyway, we stopped at his house, and he wasn't there.

So, having a little time left over, we tracted into the first house that we came to. Onja (the man) opened the door and let us in right away, sat us down with his wife, mother and two of his children, and listened. That was a fantastic experience!

Onja and his wife Tolotra are currently learning to become partakers of the sacrament in some Protestant church in Antananarivo (because Christ TOTALLY taught that we have to learn the Bible before partaking the sacrament. Not.) but seem really interested in our message and really willing to talk to us and listen to us. We like them a lot.

Unfortunately, they seem to only have time to learn once per week, which isn't usually enough to keep a person progressing, from what I've seen. Two or three visits are much better. Still, we are planning to teach them once and visit a couple times throughout the week, just to make sure they are still reading and being diligent.

But they seem way cool.

Two last investigators. Tahiry is this lady that we've taught a couple times, but her husband is currently afraid of us, and doesn't want to learn. We'll work on that. We haven't done anything to him (yet), but I think he just doesn't want to change churches yet. We'll let the Holy Ghost take care of that.

But we were teaching Tahiry, and she has been asking some really good, deep questions. She's also reading through the Book of Mormon, having almost finished 1 Nephi in two or three weeks. She seems like a good investigator, and we think her husband will be too. When he starts listening to us. Fortunately though, Tahiry is good friends with Mamy, and he has been able to help her learn so far.

The last investigator family is that of Solo (not the preacher) and Bodo. They have been way diligent, Solo having read 1 Nephi - 2 Nephi 9 or so in a week. Bodo, his wife, has also been reading, but just the minimum that we give them, which is one chapter a day. But that's good. Their children are also reading, making it one big, happy, progressing, family. We've also been focusing on mentioning temples with them a lot, to help them understand the "big picture". They love learning so far, and we have really enjoyed teaching them. They have a baptism date for December 14th, which will be right before I probably transfer out of Sabotsy Namehana.

Which leads me to the transfer news that came out last night. I'm staying here in Sabotsy Namehana, with Elder Stokes, but one of the other elders in our house is moving out (the Malagasy one), to be replaced by... an Italian! That's exciting. Apparently Elder Carrius lived in California for a while, and speaks pretty much perfect English. He seems like a way good missionary too, so he and Elder Webb should have a great time working in Analamahitsy.

That being said, it means that when the next transfers come I will have been in Sabotsy Namehana for seven and a half months, which is a long time. I'm guessing that I'll move out then, probably to a province. Which will be awesome.

I am also the district leader now, which leaves me enough authority to collect my district's stats every week and send them to the zone leader. Yippee.

But enough about me. It sounds like most of you have been having some pretty good times back in the Land of the Free. Steven, I was especially proud to hear about your Hawkeye costume. You have made me one proud older (but apparently not bigger) brother.

I also got a kick out of Mom and Dad's costumes as "old people". Classic.

Stacey, I loved your comment about Darci helping other kids to pray, and her grand "Amen!" at the end. One of the big problems that I have noticed is that a lot of parents just don't teach their kids to pray, but figure that the kids will pick it up. I was very happy to hear that you, as a mother, understand and apply the fact that the home is the best place to teach and practice living the gospel. Keep up the good work.

Julie, it sounds like you've had one chunk-a-bunk of a time (whatever that means) raising your boys, including Dave. And I was sorry to hear about him getting his appendix removed. It doesn't sound like it was a pleasant experience.

Thank you all for writing and being the world's greatest family.
I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

PS: I was just reading our mission newsletter and apparently there is a strike of the bubonic plague here in Madagascar. So that's... not good. It doesn't sound too serious right now though, so no worries. It's just good to know, I guess.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Week 26 in Sabotsy Namehana

Michael finally gets to enjoy General Conference, which is always a hit among missionaries.  That’s good.  Advice this week:  hakuna matata.  Oh, and read your scriptures.

Subject: "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."

General Conference! They never disappoint, do they?

First of all, I might have to side with Elder Ballard as my favorite talk. That guy just knows how to throw it down on missionary work. Now get to it everyone!

I think President Uchtdorf's was really good too, if I remember right. He was the one that mentioned all the meetings and things that our church asks of us, and the guy was like, "why would anyone want to be a member of your church?" "I thought you'd never ask." Right?

Other than that, we had a pretty good week. We've been trying to find new and better families to start teaching, and it has really been paying off. We've found six new families this last week, all of which seem really interested (especially the fathers, which are usually the most difficult to get!). So yes, we're pretty happy with how things are progressing.

Our stats our down a little this week (thanks to ten hours of conference), but we still feel content with the outcome. Our branch is starting to help us by befriending investigators, and we are handing out baptism dates as quickly as we can. Dad also suggested teaching about the temple, to show people a grander goal than even baptism, and we have been following it. And I think it's helping. I'm not sure if these new people that we are teaching are just more ready than the old ones, but they are reading pamphlets, asking questions, and trying to understand.

Interestingly, many of our old investigators are also having a change of heart. Many of the people that kept telling us that all churches are true suddenly broke down in our last lesson with them, seemingly out of nowhere.
At first they had been convinced that any church is fine, but now they have looked at us and said, "we understand that only one church can be right. But how can we know WHICH church is the right one?" I thought you'd never ask.

And that's not just one investigator. It's like three or four families, all suddenly understanding what we've been telling them. You gotta love being a member of the true church, eh?

We spent about an hour tracting this last week, and while we were at it this old grandma walked up to us, inviting us to her house. Why not? So we followed her to this pretty nice house, where she lives with ALL HER FAMILY. Or, as missionaries call them, PREY.

We had a nice talk with her in which she promised to read a Restoration pamphlet, and we set up a return appointment. We haven't gotten back yet (this happened on Saturday) but we think that this whole family might be willing to talk to us, which would make Elder Stokes and I a pair of very happy missionaries.

All in all, no complaints. You've got your ups, and you've got your downs, but I find that if you focus on the ups, you'll be happy. If you focus on the downs, you won't be happy.
Elder Stokes, for instance, is working to get really good at Malagasy (he dreams of being as good as me one day! Haha). Sure he makes mistakes, but since he focuses on trying new things and getting better, being happy with the progress that he is making, he is happy. Whereas people that beat themselves up all the time just get stressed out, and make life more difficult for themselves.

As the Lion King puts it: hakuna matata!

We've also been looking for small, simple service projects that we can do each day. One of the most well known members in Madagascar is President Jacquot, who is also the brother of our current branch president here in Sabotsy Namehana. Jacquot's first contact with the missionaries was when a pair of white guys with white shirts and "black squares on their shirt pockets" stopped to push his car so that he could pop the clutch and drive away.
The missionaries walked away without talking to him.

More than two years later, a pair of white guys knocked on Jacquot's door. These two were also wearing white shirts, with black squares on their shirt pockets. He invited them right in, was converted, and has been a strong member ever since.

It's also noteworthy that after President Jacquot was converted, he introduced the gospel to his family, adding several more strong members to the church.

So Elder Stokes and I figure that if we can find just one act of simple service to do each day, it will probably pay off some day. And if it doesn't, hey, you can't go wrong in doing a good thing.

One final note, regarding scripture study. DO IT. If you're not doing it, do it now. As President Brigham Young once said, in effect, "at the times when you don't feel like praying, get on your knees and plead with your Father in heaven until you DO feel like praying." The same thing applies with scripture study. If you don't like doing it, do it more.

And with that, I challenge each of you to study for 30 minutes every morning of every day this week, studying the standard works and Preach My Gospel, looking for what YOU as a member can do this week to progress the missionary work in your ward/branch, to help save the soul of ONE of God's children. Start with one. Think of a person you know that needs the gospel (ie: EVERY person you know) and study how you can help them accept the gospel. If you can't think of anyone, pray for opportunities to find new people and prepare for those opportunities through studying the scriptures.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to use thirty minutes of scripture study every morning to help you push forward the work of salvation in your ward/branch.

Thank you all for your support, your emails, and your love. Elder Stokes and I are doing our best to represent you all out here in Madagascar.

I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

Monday, October 14, 2013

Week 25 in Sabotsy Namehana

25 weeks in one place.  That seems like a long time.  Still, Michael is progressing well, is a senior companion and a trainer.  Not bad.  And we have pictures!

Subject:  "You used to be real pretty! You're just not now."

I can honestly think of nothing to write right now. My mind is completely blank. Which reminds me all too much of high school.

P1040728First of all, I did manage to snap a few pictures this week with a chameleon that we picked up as he was crossing the street, a SUPER short grandma that is way awesome (named Jacqline), another grandma that always asks us for candy, and Elder Stokes "chucking his money" (apparently that has some reference in pop culture). It's been a pretty fun week.

We also taught this guy this week named David. David had already learned from missionaries before, but stopped progressing because he didn't have any friends in the church. So we've been working to solve that problem, and it should help him a lot.

That being said, David apparently is fairly lazy. He had asked us to give him some homework to study before the next lesson, which we did. However, stopping by a day or two before the planned lesson, we checked up with him, to see how his studying was going. David then whined to us (and I seriously mean WHINED) about how he just doesn't have any time to read at all, he's so busy with his work, and his life is so hard. I looked at him and said that there is time RIGHT NOW to read, since all he was doing at the time is lying in his bed and watching some TV show with creepy Malagasy clowns (to be fair, I find all clowns equally creepy, regardless of their race).

And he said that he couldn't read.

P1040732WHAT?? He further explained that God "can't expect us to devote our ENTIRE lives to Him". We have six days to do whatever we want, and the seventh one we can pray and go to church (if it's convenient). Which he also doesn't do.

We had a very interesting discussion about that, but it kind of makes you think. God not only asks for our entire lives (heart, might, mind and soul), but He promises that if you DO devote yourself to Him, you will "find that He can do more with your life than you ever could on your own" (or however that quote actually goes). As we devote ourselves to God, we will find greater joy than we could get from devoting ourselves to anything else.

Interesting, huh?

I also hear that a number of you are working to talk more to people, getting out of your comfort zones. Way to be! Keep devoting yourselves, and watch God bless you. As mom and dad have said, you don't even have to talk about the gospel. Mom just had a nice little conversation with one of her neighbors that was putting their garbage can out. And now she has a new friend!

So there is really no downside.

P1040733Another person that we taught this week is a nice couple named Jim and Anjarasoa. We've taught them two or three times so far, and they had shown no signs of understanding the whole "one true church" thing. Then, in our lesson with them yesterday, they just understood. Out of nowhere. I don't think it was anything we said, but at the end of the lesson they just looked at us and said, in effect, "so there's only one church that God will accept? Then how will we know which one is true?"

After them not understanding at all, and then hearing this, Elder Stokes and I looked at each other and thought, "so you're telling me there's a chance... yes!"

Dad also mentioned an idea to help those people that don't understand that very idea, which I want to apply this week. What we were doing before obviously wasn't working, so we might as well try a different approach.

One final note on that. People will sometimes take a doctrine that we teach them and assume that it is doctrine in their own church. After we explain the Plan of Salvation for example, they'll say something like, "our pastor never explained it like that... but now we get it!"

So do you believe that the LDS church is true?


Dang it.

P1040738One other thing that we've been focusing on is not trying to find a hundred new investigators, but getting more use out of the ones that we have. Preach My Gospel says to contact investigators every day. Considering how spread out our investigators houses are and how few of them have phones, that's not really feasible. But instead of visiting an investigator once a week (and them not being there half the time) we are trying to go to each house at least three times a week. We also try to stop by anybody whose house we happen to pass by, just to say a quick hello if nothing else.

We've also started giving candy to investigators that complete their homework (thanks to some advice from David) and I think it's helping them. They get candy and salvation! Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot!

Anyway, that's about all I have to say for now. Thank you all for writing, your advice and your love. Keep up the good work.

Thanks again!

- Elder Arrington

Monday, October 7, 2013

Week 24 in Sabotsy Namehana

We all have our parts to play.  Michael is playing his part in Madagascar.

Play it well.

Subject: "You already lost one war this way, let's not make the same mistake twice."

Happy birthday Mom!

I remember on Friday, as we were doing our nightly planning session, and I looked at the date and was like, "this is my Mom's birthday!" I even told Elder Stokes, and he said to say "happy birthday" to you, from him. So there you go. Not just one, but TWO missionaries in Madagascar wished you a happy birthday.

In other news, we thought we had enough time to get back home after going to the office and things to send emails, but there have been no busses for the last FORTY FIVE MINUTES. Which is just ridiculous. Usually you don't have to wait more than five. Anyway, we're at a cyber in Analakely today instead of our normal one, trying to email really quick before going out to work.

Anyway, this week has been pretty good. We finally had a baptism! Granted, it was the son of our branch president, but still. We're starting to have a little bit of real progress here. We have some people that seem like they are progressing really well. Some others got evicted from their house, others apparently moved to Fort Dauphin (pretty much the farthest place on the island), and others couldn't come to church because they had to lead a wake yesterday. But they said they'll come next week, and they are still learning really well.

We also found this guy named Tojoasa, who seems like he could be way cool. He let us right in after we knocked on his door, and promised to read the pamphlet that we gave him. We've only taught him once so far, but I'll let you know how things go from here.

Another of my proud moments from last week was introducing Lova (a member) to David (an investigator). David had learned from missionaries about a year ago, but didn't progress because he had no friends in the church. One of the missionaries that taught David told me about him, and we're starting to teach him now, and get him a friend! Now there's nothing (except smoking) to stop him from baptism!

We also tried tracting a little bit with our branch mission leader, Mamy. So we showed up at this nice, big house, and the owner wasn't there. But as we're waiting at the door, big old money-banks/owner-of-the-house pulls up in a car, gets out, and asks why we're there. We explain, and he says that he "needs to think about it first". Right. Like we've never heard THAT one before. But we'll come back anyway.

It was just funny, because Mamy turned to us as we walked away from owner-of-the-house's house and said, in English, "Jesus? No, no, no... Money, money money!" sounding exactly like that scene in Toy Story when Andy is playing with his toys and Ham gets all his money. It was hilarious. We love Mamy. He's an awesome member, and actually understands the doctrine.

Mamy, in helping us teach one of our lessons, told the investigator a bit about his conversion. Apparently, Mamy used to be Catholic, and a pretty lazy one at that. He wouldn't read the Bible, or dress up to go to church or anything. Then, he started learning from the missionaries, and started wanting to learn. Right as he had that desire to study for himself, a friend gave Mamy a Bible, another friend gave him a white shirt, and his dad gave him slacks to wear to church. Mamy is now one of the most knowledgeable members that we have, and helps us out whenever he can. So we love him.

There was also a zone conference on Thursday, which was just fantastic. President gave us a lesson about integrity, and one of the missionaries showed us what kind of missionaries we should be by showing us the difference between a cheap little dagger and a sword that he had picked up in Fort Dauphin. Obviously, we want to be useful swords in God's hands, not little broken daggers. And we got sloppy joes at the mission home, which brought much joy to Elder Stokes and myself.

Speaking of Elder Stokes, we've been finding better opportunities for him to talk in lessons. So far I've had him just talk as much as he can, and I fill in the gaps. I think I'll start just not speaking at all, and try to make him teach the entire lesson. Because you only get better with practice, so you might as well practice a lot.

And on that note, I want to thank Mom for practicing her missionary skills, and trying to be a better member. The rest of you, get out there! You can, as Mom does, start out just talking to people. Having a conversation. It's not that hard, so do it!
I also hear that Steven not only went to Homecoming, but was asked to go by someone else! While I was reading Dad's version of how it all went down, I told it to Elder Stokes and we were both like, "that kid is a playa!" Keep up the good work, my little "playa" of a brother.

Everybody, keep working hard and staying active in the church. We all have our part to play. Play it well.

- Elder Arrington

Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 23 in Sabotsy Namehana

Here’s Michael’s letter for today.  Some people may not have received it for some reason (working on resolving).

Imagine the frustration of every day people not understanding that truth is limited to, well, truth.  I know many missionaries (including me) experience that frustration….

Subject:  “They’re DANCING!”

This past week has actually been pretty good! I had been feeling like things haven't been going too well here, but our stats are finally starting to pick up. Apparently last week we (in Sabotsy Namehana) had the best stats in our district. When you put it like that, I guess we're not doing too shabby, eh?

That being said, I'm having a really hard time thinking of anything to write about right now, so don't be surprised if this is just a lot of rambling.

We had been teaching this couple named Landy and Lanto for a while, but recently the disappeared off the map. They officially live in a different area, but they where staying with a friend. The saddest part is that they were really good investigators, and one of them had already come to church and a church activity. But they have since vanished, and they don't answer their phone anymore. We stopped by their friend's house to see if they had any news, but they didn't. However, the friend now wants to learn from us!

The friend, a couple named Jim and Anjarisoa, have no concept of "the ONE true church". We brought up baptism to them, asking them if they would prepare themselves to be baptized in December. Both of them said, "that's nice, but we're already baptized!" Really now. In what church? The husband was dunked in some random church I've never heard of, and the wife was baptized (with a little water on the forehead) in the Protestant church. They have both ditched their old churches and are now members in the "Miara-Manompo" ("Serve Together") church. So basically, my companion and I have a lot to do with them, explaining authority and why it is so important.

To their credit, they are not the only ones that think that any church can save you. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before, ALL of Madagascar thinks that. We'll try to blow their faces off with the Restoration, how God's church DIDN'T EXIST during the Great Apostasy, but was restored in this church. And they'll just say, "that's cool! So your church is true. So is the Protestant church, the Catholic, the Apocalypsy, the 7th Day Adventist, the Lutheran church, and everything else out there that preaches about Jesus". That just isn't possible!

And I keep asking them, "then when do doctrine's disagree?" Why do some people teach that God has a body, and some teach that He is a spirit? Why do some people teach that infants need to be baptized and others teach otherwise?

And their response is always the same. "It just depends on the person! Some people think that children need baptism, others don't. Some people think God has a body, others don't. But none of that matters, because it's not your church that saves you, but your faith."

"Faith in what? Faith in actual eternal truths, or faith in whatever I feel like believing?"

I'm not really sure how to overcome this idea. I've started using a new example, that seems to be helping a bit, but they still just have a really hard time separating from what they have been taught their whole lives. I've even asked Malagasy members and missionaries how to help people understand that, and they just laugh and say that they have no idea either. Members of the church get it, but even they don't know how to help others get it.

But enough of that. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of people that we are teaching that fall into that category. Hopefully we can bring the Holy Ghost into the lessons so that He can do the heavy lifting.

Josoa, for those of you that may remember him, came to church again yesterday, without his wife, Nirine. She had told us the day before that she had some work to do at their church, but she will come next week. Hopefully. Josoa also says that he likes our church, and just wants to learn a bit more about it before he gets baptized. His wife is more hesitant, but hopefully we'll get her in the end.

One last note about our investigators. There has been this guy named Faniry that is learning from us, and he has learned on and off from missionaries for the past two years or so. He just refuses to progress. Recently, we were about to give him our drop talk, but when we asked him why he isn't reading the Book of Mormon or praying, he said that he has done it before and never got an answer. Now there's something we can work with! So we're still teaching him, trying to help him get an answer.

Even more interesting, his mom wouldn't talk to us for a while. I kept asking her why she doesn't learn from us, and she says, "I'm not ready." Well, you won't just wake up one day and suddenly realize that you're ready! You have to learn first! But this last week we finally convinced her to sit down and talk with us, so that we can at least know what her real problem is.

In short, she believes that her church is true and doesn't want to leave it. But that's not the real news here. The REAL news is that she let us in and was finally willing to talk with us. Even better, she accepted a return appointment and we'll go back there later this week to help her out some more. Awesome. The church is true.

We also have a baptism coming up this week. The son of our branch president is getting dunked, and since the kid is already nine, he had to learn from the missionaries. But he's a way cool kid, and has been learning very effectively. He apparently had some trouble remembering who Joseph Smith was during his baptism interview, but nothing serious. We'll just have to make sure that he learns about Joseph Smith more... thoroughly next time.

Anyway, that's probably all I have to say for now. The work here is going great, and Elder Stokes is a stud. He's never afraid to try teaching, and is working really hard to be more effective in the language and his teaching abilities.

Thank you all, especially Mom and Dad for writing double this week. It's great to hear about your lives back at home, and how much you are all trying to balance your lives.

I love you all!

- Elder Arrington

PS: Lindsay, you mentioned that you're having trouble finding time to do some missionary work. Have you considered holding a ward activity at Arbor Mansion? On a day when you have no events planned, just a dinner or something, as a "non-threatening way" to help nonmembers interact with members. I guess they have actual church buildings for that, but it could be worth a shot, right?