Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Week 22 in Ambohimanarina

Michael says he doesn’t have much time to write this time, but still, there’s a lot here!  We were a little concerned because it was a day late, but not to worry--another great letter.

Subject:  "It looks like he's... leaning."

Sorry about this, but we really don't have much time to email today. We got stuck in some ridiculous traffic on our way back from Analakely, in a taxi with the coolest driver ever. Kind of a lose-win situation. But still, we made it (-ish), so that's good. We'll see where things go from here.

Work here has been awesome. Obviously things could have been better for the last little while, but it's starting to get better, little by little. First of all, we've been looking over the stats for the last few weeks, and literally the WEEK that Elder Landon left this area (my trainer), the stats dropped. To almost a half of what they used to be. Total times that we teach, member presents, things like that. It's pretty crazy. And it's stayed down low like that ever since. We've been trying to find some reason for it, and can't seem to find anything. We're still going out to work like normal, still have the old appointments, plus new ones, and we end up having to tract. On an average day we'll have anywhere between 9 and 11 appointments set up for the day, and at the end we might catch 3 of those. Yesterday we only caught one of them. ONE. But we're trying to keep a good attitude. Obviously it's not the total number of lessons that counts, but the quality. But it would still be nice to have a LOT of good lessons, rather than a few. So Elder Eppich and I are setting up some plans to help the work go better. Stay tuned.

Speaking of Elder Eppich, this kid is epic. We're having an awesome time. He's got a great sense of humor, very similar to mine, so we manage to squeeze in a few laughs throughout the day, even during the work. All good stuff. On the downside, it's looking like I might transfer this April, which would send me out after just a few short months with this kid. Which would be kind of sad.

Speaking of April, we finally have some more baptisms lined up, and guess what day it is! Oh yes. My birthday. Yes, I chose the date, and yes, that was pretty much the entire reason. But hey, the date works out well with the people, and it's going to be awesome. The only downside is that I might move before that, so it could be kind of depressing to not see them get baptized. Still, that means my birthday will be the same as their... re-birthday. Pretty cool.

One thing that's really been bugging me about the work here is how some people just REFUSE to understand the Restoration. This last Saturday we were teaching this lady named Arlette, who has been learning for a long time, reads from the Book of Mormon more than almost anybody we'll teach, but still refuses to come to church. We finally challenged her to baptism again, and she told us that she doesn't need to get baptized, since she already was baptized in some other church. This is after we've explained the authority to her, over and over and OVER, and she refuses to understand that her church does NOT have the authority to baptize. I kind of got mad and just straight up told her, "your baptism is useless". I said it nicer than that, but that was pretty much the message. It just drives me crazy how you can tell somebody that the authority was lost, give them all the examples and parables and testimonies that you can, but if they don't have the desire to act and learn for themselves, they will not progress. Arlette won't accept that her church doesn't have the authority, and because of that she is not going to receive an answer to her prayers if the church is true or not. If she did receive that answer, she wouldn't act on it, and as I've just been learning from my Book of Mormon reading in Alma, how much more doomed is somebody that knowingly doesn't follow God, verses somebody who just doesn't know?

Moral of that story: our desires are what make all things possible. If we want to have faith, we can. If we want an answer to prayer because we are ready to ACT on it, we will receive it.

There are so many people here that are diligent in reading, or coming to church, or praying. But they have no true desire to know if this church is true, so they cannot progress. And I have no idea how to give them that desire.

Interesting timing from Dad, who, in his last email to me, reminded me to be patient with our investigators. It's really hard. But thank you. We're trying to help them progress, but it's starting to look like we'll have to wash our hands of these people and seek out those who are kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.

But not everybody is like that. There are still plenty of people that we teach that are way diligent, and super awesome. Mario and Santatra, for one. Mario's parents are members, and having seen the blessings that they received and how their lives have changed, Mario and his wife want to know how they can be like that. Most importantly, they are willing to act. Just sitting there and teaching them is fantastic, because we get to learn about just how much effort they put in to know the truth. Mario and Santatra sit down together and study the pamphlets that we give them. If something is unclear, they'll use every resource that they have to learn what it means (the definitions in the back of the pamphlets, the scriptures) and if it's still not clear, they ask us questions. It's SO nice having people that actually want to learn. They have the desire to actually know the truth, and they are ready to act on it.

Leonce, if any of you remember him, taught me an example for teaching about faith. Imagine a boat, with two oars. What would happen if you only use one of the oars? The boat wouldn't work. You would just be rowing in circles. You have to use both. Our lives are like that with faith and works. I'm sure you all know that we need both, but I've been thinking about it a lot recently. Picture in your mind a lake, that is our life. We all started off in our little boats, trying to make it across. Some people fly straight across, but there are so many people sitting there, going nowhere, because they have no faith or works. Or they're just spinning in circles, because they only have one or the other.

Now in this lake of spinning nutcases, you're floating by. As missionaries (and as members of the church) our job is to help OTHERS make it across, not just finish on our own. One of the best ways we can help them is by setting forth a solid example of faith and works. We have to teach them how to row by showing them how we do it. And when we do this, we can bring forth huge numbers of boats, having huge success in our job. Unfortunately, people still have agency, and can choose to not go anywhere, in spite of all the knowledge and help you give them. It's a difficult job we have, but we have to try. The gospel is all about our effort.

And there's your inspirational thought for this week. I haven't really had time to read much of your emails yet, but I'll print them out to read later. From what I have read though, it sounds like I officially have four new nieces and nephews, healthy, cute, and chubby as ever. It sounds like the rest of you are still having a good time, working hard, keeping Arbor Manor running solid, taking care of the families, and apparently throwing out new technologies with Intel that will change modern photography as we know it. For better or worse.

Press on everybody, especially in the gospel. Put your life in God's hands. Just as we hand over broken TVs to people that know how to fix them (or just buy a new one, but follow the example), God knows how to make our lives work most effectively. This is GOD we're talking about here. The most powerful, wise, loving being in existence. Why would you follow anyone else?

- Elder Arrington

Monday, March 18, 2013

Week 21 in Ambohimanarina

Another great letter indicating that Michael really gets it as a missionary.  Michael is still learning about working with a different companion—not a bad thing, he’s learning that every companion is different.  How you work with them is different.  What a great learning experience!

Subject:  "Just be glad I didn't go with that who "automobile" idea. Yeah, like that's going to make a lot of money."

Well, I didn't think this out too well. Usually I'll just go through my planner and share a couple things that happened from this last week, but today marks a new missionary planner (#5 to be exact), so I have none of the details I had planned to use. But I'll do my best.

DSC01151_thumb[5]First of all, I just remembered all the meetings and things we were going to have with our branch president. A couple weeks ago we had a zone meeting where President Adams gave us a bunch of stuff about how to work with the ward (or branch). Awesome. The Sunday after that, we had a stake meeting, so no branch council. The Wednesday after that, President Fetra cancelled the Priesthood meeting, so nothing there. The Sunday after THAT, he cancelled the branch council again (see the pattern here?). Honestly, I'm getting kind of sick of him being a total bum, so I just told him that there WILL be a meeting this Wednesday, and he IS going to come early to it so Elder Eppich and I can teach him how to run a meeting. We're supposed to just let him lead everything and not overstep our bounds here, but he isn't helping the missionary work at all. Which will hopefully change. Find out more in the coming emails.

Other than that, the work still isn't quite going as well as we would like it to. This last week we've had about nine or ten lessons planned for each day, and usually come home with only three or four actually taught. It's pretty depressing. But it gives us a lot of time to do some contacting, which is never a bad thing. Still, we would prefer to teach.

On Saturday we had planned to teach four people in this one area. So we go and check on one to see if they can learn. No, but later should be good. We go to the next one. They'll be ready in an hour. The next one, was ready to learn then and there. The fourth one the husband was gone, so we couldn't go in. Still, it's already been an hour, and the husband should be back soon. So we go to teach #2. Still no good. #1, left their house. #4 again, the husband still wasn't there. So we just ping-ponged around there for a while trying to catch one of them at home. To make a long story short, only that one person had been able to learn out of all four of those.

That's been pretty much our last few weeks. Which is saddening. But I've been getting better at contacting people. I don't know if I said this before, but President Adams has given us a challenge to place 20 invitations to church each day. This challenge could offer rather a challenging challenge. Challenging-ly.

And all those thoughts of being shy or thinking it would be awkward to talk to somebody are just getting thrown under the bus. I've always known this, but I'm finally willing to act on the facts that: 1) it could be the Spirit that is prompting me to talk to them. B) worst case scenario, it helps me get better at the language. *three*) VERY worst situation, if I totally embarrass myself, I'll probably never see that person again. So there's really no harm done. Just throw yourself out there and start gospel talking. Even though some people just walk away without a single word to you, you're putting forth the effort. (The more you try, the more you fly. And that's what really counts!)

Effort. Effort. My companion. I have to say, teaching with Elder Eppich is a whole new ball game. For one, Elder Landon where at a point (after four months, mind you) where we could figure out how to switch off really well, and I would say we did a pretty good job of teaching in unity. With Elder Eppich... He's different. I feel like I'm talking a lot more than I should, but even if I stop for a minute or two to let him take over he'll still just kind of sit there. He still teaches, it's just not nearly as smooth as it could be. But we talk about it sometimes, and he's getting better. Good stuff.

Another thing I'm starting to see better is my own train of thought of teaching. If that makes any sense. When I first came here I was all over the place, just trying to make my mouth say things to take up time. The longer I'm here though, the better I'm getting at seeing the end-game, what I really want the investigator to understand, and how to get them there. Which is really helping get the people more involved in the lessons, so they'll feel the Spirit more and have a greater desire to seek the Spirit on their own time.

Dramatic subject change. When Elder Landon left, he had about four months left of his mission. In that same transfer Elder Hansen, who is from the same group as Elder Landon, came to the house that I live in. So I'm now living with a missionary who is two months older than me (in mission time - Elder Eppich) and one who is going home in just over three months. Suffice it to say, it is his pride and joy to make us trunkie. It's rough.

And that's pretty much that. It sounds like everyone is having a pretty great time back at home, with babies popping out right and left, leaving Julie as the last "man" standing. Good luck, time bomb. All the babies so far appear to be of an abnormally cute nature, with adorable levels flying off the charts.

All of you keep up the good work. Study, work, ski (Steven), and live life. Being separated from life like this is super weird, and since I can't take part in it, I trust all of you will party twice as hard, for me.

Thank you all for your support,

- Elder Arrington

Here's a picture with some less-actives that we've been teaching. They are officially less-active, but Hery still reads the Book of Mormon, and holds it up when people take pictures of him. Go figure.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Week 20 in Ambohimanarina

This is one of those letters where you really feel like Michael is understanding what missionary work is really about.  His focus is there continuously in his letter.  I’m sure he has normal stuff to get done here and there, but I do like his focus!

Subject:  “You are free to eat!”

"Am I??"

"Are you!?"

People would go blind from over exposure to pure awesomeness! True story. And good movie.

P1020495My first full week with a companion other than Elder Landon. Quite an interesting change, as I believe I said before. But Elder Eppich is way cool, and we're having a great time.

The one kind of wierd thing is how many lessons we teach each week. I was looking over our weekly stats for the last couple weeks, and the week that Elder Landon left we taught almost half as many lessons as normal. Odd. Same with this week. Feel as bad about this week because we lost a bit of work time thanks to a zone meeting and stake conference, but still. Half as many lessons is quite a difference. I was pretty bummed about that.

Until I started writing about it in my journal. I had a little something of a revelation. While it's true that we're teaching far less people than normal, it's forcing us to FIND new people. And finding has been going great. Just about every door we knock on has a father lead family behind it, just waiting to hear about the gospel. Here's a couple stories for you.

We actually tracted into this lady named Charlotte a while ago, but since there were no other guys there with us we couldn't enter the house. But she had seemed way cool. So Elder Eppich and I went back to her about a week ago, and sneakily taught her a little bit about the Restoration. Rather than entering the house and breaking mission rules, you stand outside and present the Restoration pamphlet to them, explaining a little about each section. It gets them started a little into reading it, and you can kind of cheat teaching them, even if you have no other guys with you. AND she set up a time for us to come back and teach the rest of her family (except her husband who would be at work). So we went back on Friday with Leonce, who found soP1020500me time to come with us, walked into the house, and found out that her husband's brother lives there and had been there the whole time. We could have taught them. Anyway, we walk in and start talking about their reading. Surprisingly, they actually HAD read. Surprisingly 2x, they pulled out the book and immediately asked what exactly an Apostasy is. After we explained that, they asked that if God had taken prophets from off the earth, are we still in an Apostasy? Fantastic question. We turned the page in the pamphlet and started into the Joseph Smith story. They loved it, and because of a challenge that President Adams has given all the missionaries to start inviting pretty much everyone to church, we invited them to church. And guess who came to church yesterday. We had two total investigators. Prinsia, who you may remember to be the most diligent 15 year old in the world, who comes to church and everything in spite of how lazy her parents are. And the other one? The brother of Charlotte's husband. This guy had just randomly sat in on the lesson, and followed the challenge to come to church. I'm way glad President gave us that challenge.

Another, shorter story, we were trying to find something to do one night, and everybody was busy. I actually made a list in my journal of all the people that we had tried to teach, and why we couldn't for that day. Finally, it was about 7 o'clock and we had to decide to either just go home early or try to teach one other lesson, by knocking on their door. And in this country, people sleep at 7 o'clock. Regardless, we stopped at a street corner and just prayed, asking where we should go. As soon as I started praying, I remembered this lady named Josiene, that we used to teach, but had to stop after she stopped coming to church. She lived nearby, so we walked down that way. Unfortunately she had already moved. That's pretty depressing. But whatever. We turned around and started knocking on doors. At the first door, there were no parents home. No good. Second house was the winner. This 17 year old kid named Tanjona opened up and let us in, listened to the lesson, and said it would be fine for us to return again. His parents had been gone at the time, but they should be back later.

P1020501Another day, we're walking around in that same area, still with nobody to teach, and Elder Eppich reminds me about that kid that we had tracted into. So we go back to him, and his parents are actually there. We start talking and find out that most of the family is Protestant, except for the dad, who is Catholic. They listened really well, and invited us back. This family could be very ready to be united under the gospel standard, if you know what I'm saying. Also, Tanjona had read from the Restoration pamphlet, which was pretty cool.

I now realize that that story was actually longer, but you get the idea. Anyway, it seems that even though the work isn't exactly the same as it was before, we're finding a really good foundation of new investigators. Which I'm totally down for. It just took a little barriers for us to find them. Interesting how that works. We have barriers, and if we continue to trust in God, we'll still come out on top. Gotta love having God lead our lives.

Probably just one more story, that I'll try to keep short. We had tracted into this lady a couple weeks ago, and she seemed really interested. We came in to teach her again, and she had read some of the Restoration pamphlet. Sounds promising. But we had no men with us, so even though her husband didn't want to join us, she more or less forced him to. And pretty much all he did was argue. We asked him if there had been prophets after the time of Malachi, and he said yes. We asked him why they didn't write any scriptures. Well, he corrected himself, there WERE prophets, but they had been false prophets.

P1020502Okay, well let's just assume for a second that we're talking about something productive and helpful. But he continued arguing things like that throughout the entire lesson. Finally, I remembered what Elder Hansen (and David) had said recently. We shouldn't worry about trying to prove other people wrong. Just present the gospel as it is, straight truth from God, and bear testimony of it. With all this arguing, I figured this would be a good time to apply that.

I just stopped him, and told him "this is what we believe. God removed the prophets from the earth because the people were wicked. Gospel truths were lost. When the people were ready, God gave them prophets again to restore the truth. The people still rejected the new prophet (Christ, and after his death, Peter), so the prophets and authority were removed from the earth again. Truths were lost again. But when the people were ready, God restored the truth again the a prophet (see the pattern?), Joseph Smith. I have received an answer that Joseph Smith is a true prophet and I know that if you ask God, you can receive an answer too." Wham. Right after that, he just couldn't say a thing. Not that my goal had been to shut him up, but he just sat there and THOUGHT about what I had said, rather than trying to reject it. Thank you experienced missionaries, including brothers.

To wrap this up, I might just add that there has been an announcement from President Adams that came out this morning. Missionaries here are now allowed to email friends and priesthood leaders, as well as family members. Those friends that have been emailing me and not gotten responses, get ready to be responded. Maybe not today, since this main email has been really long, but next week.

Basically, thank you all for all your help and support,

- Elder Arrington

Monday, March 4, 2013

Week 19 in Ambohimanarina

A new companion—and he hasn’t been out very long either!  Now the comparisons begin.  And we learn what was so great about Elder Landon. 

And it’s good to hear Michael so focused on missionary work!

Subject:  "Ah, Doberman. The son I never wanted."

Well, in case you weren't aware, another week has gone by. Has time always flown by this fast?

I officially have my second companion now. My mission-mom, as they say. Elder Eppich is a good fellow. He came out on his mission only two months before me, and according to one of our members here, Elder Eppich and I are about the same in our Malagasy speaking skills. Go figure. Although it makes me feel pretty awesome. His first companion made them skip language study, so it makes sense that he would have some trouble learning. Add that to Elder Landon having been a great teacher, and I feel like I've progressed quite nicely. I have to say though, he understands far more than I. I speak decently, he listens great. We all have our areas to shine. I can get along, but we'll walk out of lessons and usually he'll bring up something that I had totally missed. It's really good to have someone who can check you on things like that.

P1020493On the other hand, since Elder Eppich just barely moved here, it's up to me to lead the area. Which is hard. Really hard. The last two or three days I've just been 100% drained when we get home. Paralyzed from the hair down. It was a simpler life before, not having to worry about where to go or what to do if something goes wrong. Just let Elder Landon do that. I could just stand around and let him pick something. But now it's just up to me if people aren't at home. Which happens far more than I would like. But I guess it's not all terrible. We ended up doing some tracting and met a really nice lady who seemed interested to learn. And she's pretty smart. Unfortunately, she lives with her brother who is a pastor for some other church, so we'll have to gird about our loins the armor of God, and prepare to do battle. In the nicest way possible, of course. David sent some interesting advice in his last email, offering that it might be better to not argue with them, but find points to agree on and bear testimony of the truth. He also mentioned a line from Preach My Gospel (and didn't cite his sources, tsk tsk) so I figure you really can't go wrong there. Advice from a brother, an RM, and Preach My Gospel. It's worth a shot.

Especially because I never know what to do in real teaching situations. I just don't have a solid enough background yet to really help somebody understand what I'm trying to say. One of my biggest problems is not using scriptures. Which I'm trying to work on. Elder Eppich told me of a quote from some apostle or someone like that that said if you memorize one scripture everyday for two years, by the end of that, you'll have a photographic memory. How awesome would that be? I'll give it a shot. If it works, I'll remember everything. If not, there's 730 scriptures memorized (or 731 if there's a leap year). I bring that up mostly because I've started into it, memorizing them in Malagasy, and I've already been able to use some of them when I'm teaching. Even if you can't remember the whole thing, you at least know where it is and what it's about. And it helps with the language. So there's really no downside.

Speaking of the language, with Elder Landon leaving and my new companion not having been out very long I was afraid that we would have no really skilled Malagasy speakers in the house (actually Malagasy people excluded). Fortunately, Elder Hansen replaced Elder Randall, and that kid is good. Like the smell of bacon kind of good, with regards to the language. He's way good. And way nice, and way cool. Even better, he's more than willing to help us study and learn Malagasy, and way good at explaining it. Which is really hard. Malagasy and English are just WAY different. Which is probably why Malagasies think different than Americans. It's got to have something to do with that.

I guess I've talked a lot about the language and Elders here, and not a lot about the work. Here's a little update for you all.

Mario and Santatra. We waited outside the church until sacrament meeting started, and they still hadn't shown up. Which left us a grand total of two investigators at church. Not the best week. So we went upstairs, and sat down. Then, just as the first hymn started, they walked in, trailing a cloud of glory about them. Not really, but it was fantastic to see them. So they ended up attending church again, and still had a great time.

Romen. We've taught Romen a couple times and it sounds like he could be another Mario of sorts. He's way smart, knows the scriptures, and told us that he had been trying to find the true church for a while, but just didn't see it. After a while he just got tired of hearing all the preachers and priests and everyone just tell him that their church is true. We came in contact with him, and one of the first things we told him was that he can pray and receive an answer for himself. We don't tell him to just accept what we say, like in other religions, but we ask him to pray so that he can learn for himself. He really liked that. He also asked us something about the Bible that we really weren't sure how to answer. He pulled out a verse in Matthew... 22? Something like that. Jesus asks the Pharisees "who is the father of Christ?" they respond that he is a son of David, and Christ basically says "if David is the father of the Christ, than why does he call him Lord?". Romen was confused about the timeline of that, since David had been dead long before Christ came. It also brought up a really interesting question. Is this scripture not referring to prayer? Then does that mean that David prayed to Christ? I don't know. It's confusing. That's just another reason the Book of Mormon is so important. And having a living prophet.

As for pictures this week, apparently I didn't take any. But Dad's been asking for a picture of the cyber place that we go to, so I got Elder Eppich to snap one. Welcome to the cyber world of Madagascar.

Thank you everyone for emailing, know that even if I don't have time to read long emails I still print them out to be read later, because hearing from people back home is the best thing ever.

- Elder Arrington

PS: Dad mentioned a "friend" who wants to send a package to a missionary, and asked what could be in that package. First off, some pens would be awesome. Some good old, classic Arrington pens. Dad, you know the kind. But that's more of a stocking stuffer. Other than that, I've heard that Jell-O has a cheese cake mix that tastes rather delicious, and one or two of those would be greatly appreciated. Cakes are kind of hard to make, but the cheese cake mix that Elder Landon had was super easy. Just an idea. Some M&Ms too, especially if you can find those ones that are filled with peanut butter. It's basically a bigger Reese's Piece. Basically anything prepackaged and easy to prepare. And candy. You really can't go wrong.

PPS: Stacey, just last week I got your Christmas package. While I had never been big into gummy candies, I don't think anything has ever tasted so good. And it's been far too long since I had had Nerds. Keep those rolling.