Monday, April 29, 2013

Week 1 in Sabotsy Namehana

Yep, a new area, and a new companion.  And some new pictures!

Subject:  "All I ever wanted was an honest week's pay for an honest day's work."

Well, I've officially moved to my second area in Madagascar. Sabotsy Namehana is actually about a half hour bus ride from where we live (in Analamahitsy), so I'll still get to ride lots of busses. Oh goodie. It's been an interesting week, what with all the moving houses, meeting new people, going to another branch (this branch is actually smaller than my old one), and having a Malagasy companion.

P1020687It's awesome having a Malagasy comp. One of the biggest things that I think I've already complained about is how much I don't understand of Malagasy native speakers. What better way to fix that than to stick me with one for a few months? I've already learned a ton from him, and one other huge thing that I'm working on is really SPEAKING like a native. Both in accent and phrases that I use. You can speak English to them that's directly translated to Malagasy, but it makes no sense sometimes. You have to really learn HOW they say things, which I get to do a lot more now. It's way cool.

P1020692As far as the teaching goes, I actually haven't gotten to teach much. We have to travel a lot between our appointments, and most of them have just be a little spiritual thought so far. I'm sure that once I get to know the people better and their issues, I'll be able to do a little more.

We spent an hour or so teaching a guy how to read. We sat there while he sounded out things that my companion wrote (they didn't want me to write it because apparently white people have "weird handwriting". In America we call that "correct handwriting".) and I was thinking "I can actually read this guy's native language better than he can. That's weird." But then I realized that any word he sees, he already knows. Once he gets the hang of sounding out the words his understanding of what he reads will be WAY higher than mine. How about that.

P1020691I got a talk by Jon Bytheway that I've been listening to, where he mentions a phrase that he told himself all the time on his mission in the Philippines. "Every person I see is my superior in AT LEAST one way". And think about how true that is. Even though you may speak better than someone, have nicer clothes than someone, or be from America, everyone in the world is better at you than something. So don't try to make comparisons, putting yourself above others. Realize that they are just as good as you, in different ways. The way God made them.

I man not have mentioned this before, but the house that I just moved into has two other elders living in it. One American, and another Malagasy. Interestingly enough, Elder Landon's (the other American, not my trainer) birthday is the day before mine. It may also be worthy to note that Malagasies have a tradition of throwing eggs at people on their birthday. To make a long story short, Elder Landon got egged. Seeing this, I prepared myself for battle. Everything was fine in the morning, when I thought they would get me, but they ended up striking right when we got home. And thus, I had egg in my hair for the first time on my mission. We got some pictures, and it was awesome.

P1020704We also got pictures of me at a less active member's house, where they gave us something that they consider to be food. Little crawdads. Or foza orana, as they call them here (it means "rain prostitute". I have NO idea why). It was odd trying to tell myself to eat one, but after the first little bugger got in my mouth I realized that they actually taste like bacon. Really good bacon. I had no trouble scarfing down the rest.

And that's pretty much ben my life for the last week. Way fun.

Thank you all for the birthday wishes, the letters, the package, and the updates. Keep them coming.

- Elder Arrington

PS: Mom, it looks like the only thing missing from the package that you sent was two packs of fruit snacks. But I got everything else, and the shirt is treating my quite nicely. Thanks for everything.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Week 26 in Ambohimanarina

Week 26, a full 6 months.  And now comes the news that he is moving on….  He mentions a few pictures, which I have not been able to find on the server, so I’m not sure where they went.

Subject:  "Squid launcher! Oh yeah!"

The weeks are just flying by like nobody's business. And this week has brought us a whole lot of news. Stay tuned.

First of all, the baptisms. Aina (the nine year old) passed with flying colors, except that she thought the Word of Wisdom said that we're not allowed to eat mangoes or bananas. But no real problems there.

Mario and Santatra were not at home when we stopped by for our prearranged interview time, and after a few phone calls we found out that Santatra was sick, so they took her to the hospital. We still haven't been able to interview them so far, but we're working out a plan to get it done so they can be baptized this weekend.

And Prinsia. Elder Rasoloniaina learned that she is fourteen, and suggested that we call the assistants to find out if it is really okay for her to be baptized. Her parents are lazy as cows, and being that young puts her at a good chance of going inactive. So that's a decent point. I called the assistants, and they said we should wait one more month, just to make sure she'll be diligent. She's already come just about every week for the last four months, constantly reads the Book of Mormon and has born testimony to us that it's true, and has friends in the church, so I really don't see her going inactive too easily. Still, you don't argue with leaders. So Prinsia has to wait for a little bit.

As for other people, I forget if I told you all about Noel, but he is a boss. His friend (Jeremy) invited him to church, and he's come once so far. We met with him, set up a program, and went to his house after about a week. Starting right into the first lesson, he stops us and says that he already knows the lesson. Oh really now? Elder Eppich and I kept trying to slow him down and explain it, but he just kept telling us that he understands it all and wants to learn about the second lesson (his exact words). Elder Eppich stopped and just said "okay, if you know the lesson, explain Joseph Smith to us". And boy did he ever. Noel explained the many other churches at the time, they confused Joseph Smith and separated his family, he read in the Bible, prayed to God, saw "the First Vision", and after a while he received the Book of Mormon to restore the truth to the earth, and later received the priesthood to lead the church.

After his explanation Elder Eppich and I just sat there, wondering how in the world this guy knows the lesson better than any other member in this country, before we even TAUGHT the guy. It turns out he was anxious to learn, so he kept bugging Jeremy and had him explain the lesson. Jeremy, being a returned missionary, tried to have him wait until our appointment, but Noel wanted to learn. Which makes us pretty excited.

After that, we gave him a Plan of Salvation pamphlet and told him to study it before the next lesson. We came back a few days later, and he knew the Plan of Salvation just as well as the Restoration, and kept asking me for a Book of Mormon. Thanks to my brain, I had forgotten to bring one. But we gave him a book when he came to church on Sunday to watch general conference.

In short, this could very well be the most prepared-of-God guy I have ever heard of. And to top it all off he is only 20, which leaves him plenty of time to go on a mission of his own.

General conference was fantastic. I didn't really get all of President Monson's talk on Sunday morning (we watched that session in Malagasy), but I heard he was awesome. My favorite though was probably Elder Holland's. Of course. He's just such a passionate guy. Whether he's yelling at you to never go inactive or turn away from the church, or pulling you off on the sidelines to give you a few words of comfort, you can just feel the fire burning from him. One of my favorite talks of all time is his CES fireside talk to BYU a while ago. He talks about how in olden times God's people had to run away from Babylon. But now "you attack it!" Great talk. Great guy. The church is true.

And probably the most interesting news to all of you will be the transfer news that we got last night. This has been the first transfer that I've actually had a pretty good chance of going somewhere, and thanks to Elder Eppich's joking about it, transfers have been on my mind a lot. We figured that if I move, I'll probably start training in two months, and Elder Eppich won't. But if I don't move, I would move in two months and Elder Eppich would train.

The final word is thus: I am moving. Goodbye Ambohimanarina. And hello "Asabotsy Namehana". It's one of the closest areas to Ambohimanarina, if you care to know. And I'll be with a Malagasy, named Elder Razafimandimby. Or Dimby, for short. The huge irony here is that Elder Eppich's new companion will be going home in two months, and with twelve new missionaries coming in, there's a good chance that he and I will BOTH be training. So that's good. But let's focus on the here and now.

The work here is still going pretty good here. We're finding some way cool people, and although I won't be working here for much longer, I trust Elder Eppich will take good care of them.

Please keep emailing. All of you. I love hearing about your lives back home and how you're all progressing. Keep up the good work.

- Elder Arrington

PS: There's a few pictures for you all this week. Enjoy. There's one of Mario and Santatra with their baby, Tsiky. It means "smile". I stepped in some poop a while back and there's a three picture series of me scraping it off my shoe. And when we were on the bus today, this kid was staring at me, just looking awesome. So I pulled out my camera a snapped a picture of the little sucker. That's kids here in Mada for you. Cute as a bug in a rug.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Week 25 in Ambohimanarina

More pictures this week.  In fact the first one is good enough to make it a blog header.  I’ll get on that right away…

Subject:  "Your security ain't worth spit. Everybody's got a gun!"

P1020539So my epic companion (Elder Eppich) and I are sitting in the cyber right now, and some fantastic child of God decided to start playing "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban. So we're enjoying that quite thoroughly.

In other news, our area seems to be taking another spin upwards. As you may recall, after the dramatic exit of Elder Landon, we kind of took a swan dive in total lessons and pretty much all of our stats. Granted, that's not really an accurate judge of success, but it's sad to be spending teaching time just having to wander around and street contact. On the bright side though, we're starting to get some really cool sounding investigators, so that's pretty exciting. Of course, to teach them, we have to stop teaching other people. But as Dad mentioned, we might as well spend our time teaching people that will progress.

AP1020549s for baptisms, Mario and Santatra, Aina, and Prinsia are all looking ready. The only big problem here is the baptism interviews. Normally we would have them be interviewed on the Sunday before the baptism, but I, in my uncanny ridiculousness, chose the week right after they show general conference. So we missionaries will be at the mission office, while all the investigators and other people are at the church. So we have to figure out some way to make that work out. We have a plan for three of them, but Prinsia lives kind of in the middle of nowhere. But we'll figure it out.

We finally made our goal for investigators coming to church. The goal has been 10 for the last couple weeks, and we kept getting around 4-6. But this last week we finally had not 10, but 11! So we're pretty stoked about that. And two of those people were from a bigger family, and said the rest of the people should come this next week. So that's pretty awesome. I'm just getting the area warmed up again, just in time to drop it in Elder Eppich's capable hands and get transferred. We really don't know if I'm getting transferred this time, but there's a pretty good chance. We'll just have to wait and see.

P1020560So we have this guy that we teach named Parfait. I don't know if I've already told you guys about him, but he used to be a guardian at this big, empty lot. We started teaching him, he came to church, and his brother (who owns the empty lot) kicked Parfait out. So for coming to church with us, this guy is out of a job. And since the guardians here sometimes live on the land that they guard, he has no place to live either. So he and his wife have just be bouncing around from one place to another, trying to find work and somewhere to sleep for the night. The worst part of all this is when he asked us for help.

No crying or anything, just asking if we could do anything. We called our branch president, who set up an interview for Sunday. Parfait came, they met, and President announced that we are going to help him. Through prayer. Since Parfait isn't a member of the church, President isn't allowed to give him any financial help. So we pray. I wasn't there when Parfait was told that we couldn't give him money, and I haven't talked to him since that, but he seems like a way cool guy. Hopefully he'll progress through these hard times and stay focused on the things that are most important.

P1020566Another random thought, I never thought I would be this good at typing on a French keyboard. I'm now about as good on the French one as I used to be on the English. But now I can't type on the English ones, so I'm not really sure how good that is. It's kind of like my Malagasy. I'm losing English skills, but the Malagasy still hasn't quite kicked its metaphorical behind in gear. I've been told that I speak pretty well, and I understand grammar things pretty well. My biggest weakness is my listening and understanding. David, did you have problems like that? Being good at one thing while the other part couldn't keep up? Any advice? I really want to be good at the language, partly so I can teach well, and partly so I can brag about it. But also so I can teach well.

I finally have some pictures for you, so enjoy what you can. You may see me standing by a door from Alice in Wonderland, far too small to be normal. That's actually a window, but the house was built really weird, so it looks like a door. We also managed to catch one of the little gecko dudes that keeps crawling on our ceilings and walls, thanks to Elder Rasoloniaina's willingness to touch "icky things". After a while I manned up and held it too though. My manness is still intact. Anyway, we took a picture of me almost eating that, because hey, what else are you supposed to do with geckos?

P1020577And no, he did not offer to save me 15% or more on car insurance.

They also have these cars that shoot around here loaded up with foam. I've been trying to get a picture for a while, and snapped this sucker while they car sped off to liberate some poor people without styrofoam. Here in Madagascar, we believe that having foam is a right for all people, regardless of their situation or other stuff.

And in the mission office, they have a board with all the birthdays coming up in the month. As you may well be aware, this is the month of April. As some of you are probably aware, my name should be right where my finger is pointing.P1020559 And yet it is not. I guess the mission office people don't like little old Elder Arrington. Actually, we went back in the office today (for a fire drill, which we were not happy about) and they had my name on there. That's nice of them. And I hear that birthday kids get cookies here, so I'm pretty excited for that.

We get some pretty awesome sunsets here, so here's a little snapshot of Mada for you. Trust me though, it's way better in person.

And so are the people. I've talked a couple times about how the people here can be kind of annoying at times, what with all their not understand what we teach them, not knowing how to drive, calling us vazahas, etc. But it's really not that bad. I still have some days where I just want to throw that little Malagasy kid in a rice patty, but generally things are pretty good. One thing I've learned is that if you go talk to the people that call you vazaha, they'll usually stop doing it. I talked to this one lady about that, and told her to call us "friends" instead. And every time we walk past there, she comes out and yells "Manao ahoana namana!" (hello friends!). And hearing that just brightens my day. Good times.

A little spiritual thought for all of you. The gospel. It isn't just a helper for when we make mistakes. True, it improves our lives. But think of how much more it can do for us if we follow it through the good times too. Imagine a straight line, going horizontal. That represents our lives. Sometimes we go above, and sometimes we go below. If we drop below, we know we can turn to the gospel to help us come back up to that line. What many people don't realize is that the gospel will also continue to take us ABOVE that line, if we let it. Just a thought.

Work hard everyone, stay diligent, and always focus on the gospel. Through the good times and the bad.

- Elder Arrington

Monday, April 8, 2013

Week 24 in Ambohimanarina

Wow.  24 weeks in the same town.  Not bad.  That’s almost 6 months.  But he seems to be having a great time, and his testimony is growing.

Subject:  "Get me a milk. Chocolate."

Wow. Another long week. And yet at the same time, a very short week. It's weird how that works. Looking back, time always seems shorter. You just can't seem to win with that.

One thing we did just win though, is a major game of soccer. There was some big game of a bunch of missionaries verses one or two wards. The teams were actually pretty easy to figure out, since it turned out just being the white people against the black people (and I say that in the least offensive way possible). Final score, 7 - 4 white people. Way to go, missionaries.  I admit, as do the other elders that played, that we were tired as none other after two or three minutes. It was rough. But way good. I haven't had a chance to run like that in the last... 7 months. A long time. Although I could promise you there's NO WAY I've been in Madagascar for 5 months. Crazy.

Many of you have asked about general conference and how that works here. Well so far, it hasn't. Apparently for some reason we get to wait about three weeks before our "conference Sunday". So conference happens, and we get to watch it at the mission office (in English!) three weeks later. So be sure to hold back on any spoilers for a while. Or not. I always love hearing your guys' spiritual learnings and things.

A little odd news for some of you. I found out recently that a bunch of David's mission pictures are on the iPod that you gave me, and we found a way to look at them. Things I've learned from it include my brother's unseen cow-milking skills, giant spiders, and I need to start taking more pictures. Fortunately, I've started doing that. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home today, so we'll have to wait another week. Sorry about that. But rest assured, pictures are coming.

Our investigators are all going pretty well. Or rather, they are going the same. The diligent ones are still pretty diligent, and the lazy ones are... still lazy. We've been starting into some serious drop talks with people. Not a thing we like to do. One of the biggest people that bugs me is this lady named Arlette.

Her daughter (Prinsia) is scheduled for baptism on April 27th, and Arlette reads a ton from the Book of Mormon. The problem is that she refuses to come to church (or just lies about coming), and even though she says that she believes the Book of Mormon to be true, she won't be baptized because she was baptized before in the Protestant church. So she clearly understands NOTHING that we've been telling her for the last 5 months. Which does not make us happy. And just to complicate matters, we basically have to drop Arlette while still teaching her daughter, which does not work well. Why do people refuse to understand the gospel?

One thing that we've been learning in our house is just how simple the gospel is. We have to follow God's commandments, repent when we make mistakes, be baptized, and then we will have eternal life. And then everything else in the gospel can be built upon that. Whether or not God has a body, where we are from, where we are going after we die, and pretty much any deep doctrine you can think of. We will receive an eternal, immortal body because that is what God has and what he wants for us. We repent so that we can return with God, because that is our goal. And you can keep building. We've found some sections in Doctrine and Covenants that have some pretty crazy interesting deep doctrine about exactly what our spirits are made from. It talks about how we were truth before, or light, in other words. When we follow God, our light grows. When we disobey, it gets dimmer. This isn't just some unseen, mystical thing, but a very literal change within our spirits. If we obey God enough, we will receive all of the light and truth that he has to offer, becoming the most that we could ever be. We also learned that Satan rejected and rebelled against that light, and even though he still exists, he has NO light. God is light, Satan (one of God's children, formed from light just like the rest of us) is the opposite.

It's like life is a game where we have to go around collecting little light points, and if we fill ourselves up, we win. Satan was that guy who just didn't want to follow the rules, and ended up losing his light.

The big moral of this story is that the message of the gospel is very simple. Faith, repentance, baptism in water, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. And once you understand that, all the other deep gospel things can build on that. And there are some REALLY interesting deep doctrines, and super cool church stories out there. Try studying some of the History of the Church books sometime. Good stuff.

I'm trying to keep this pretty short, since we kind of are running late on time. Suffice it to say, the work is still going great, and other than Steven's ear infection, things seem to be going pretty well at home. Keep up the good work, and study some of the gospel things out there. God has given us all these things to help us build our light. Shine forth.

I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

PS: Julie, I haven't had  an email from you in a while. I trust this whole "second baby" thing has had your mind pretty busy, but you have to make some priorities. Meaning emailing.

PSS: David, same for you. Let's hear how life's been going with my one college attending brother.

PSSS: Steven, we'll take that ear infection you had as a sign that you should email me. God is calling you up to repentance, directly in your ear. That's punny.

PSSSS: Julie, I was officially kidding about that. Stay focused on James and Parker.
Good luck to you all!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Week 23 in Ambohimanarina

Another good letter, and many responses to comments in our letter.  The reference to Steven skiing is from when he and I went Skiing in Utah over spring break.  We also spent some time at Arbor Manor.

Subject:  "Any food that grows here is tough and tasteless. The people that grow here are even more so."

First things first. That picture of Steven makes him look just like Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon. So that's pretty awesome. Not to mention, skiing is always cool. Considering that the weather is now really, really hot, I could really go for some skiing right now. But that will have to wait. God's work is calling louder than skis.

P1020511Although it still sounds like you are all staying pretty busy, working at Arbor Manor, fixing internet problems, building cabinets, going to school, and whatever Steven has been up to. Keep up the good work. You'll never regret that.

Speaking of work, the work here in good ole' Ambohimanarina is still going pretty well. There's still a couple investigators that I'm not really sure what should do about them, but we're dropping some and finding a whole lot of new ones, which will hopefully be cool and super diligent. We found this one guy fairly recently, named Parfait, who seems like he might be awesome. Only time will tell.

On the note of investigators, I forget if I already told you all or not, but our next baptism is coming up in April. I think the people that will be ready for that are Mario and Santatra, just super diligent people who actually study the pamphlets that we give them, Aina, this little girl who is way diligent (even though her parents are less active members), and Prinsia, who's family is not diligent. But she comes to church and reads the Book of Mormon more than most of our members, and keeps asking when she can get baptized. Even though her family isn't very... helpful, she has a good support system of member-friends and such, so we really have no reason to push off her baptism date. We're still working with her mom, this lady named Arlette, who says that she understands what we teach her but still tells us that she has already been baptized, so she can't do it again. We tell her over and over, as politely as we can, that her baptism had no authority, but she just doesn't listen. It's getting close to a drop-talk time. We have to wash our hands of her and go find some diligent people that are willing to put in their own effort to receive salvation.

P1020514We go around telling people how to live forever with God in eternal happiness, and they say their fine. It's just super frustrating, trying to help these people when they just won't DO anything about what you're saying. Totally reject the missionaries, or totally accept them. Totally reject God, or totally accept Him. These people that try to stay in the middle are the most difficult, because you always think that they might have a chance of progressing, and they end up just wasting your missionary time. You're trying to be effective with the Lord's time, so you have to make the choice, whether you stay with them or cut the line. The umbillical cord of missionary work.

Speaking of umbilical cords, my nieces and nephews sound alive and well, and most importantly, having cut umbilical cords. All good stuff. It's fun listening to some of the other elders around here talking about how they just got their second or third niece or nephew. I'm like, yeah, I gained that many in the last month. Leaving the running total at... 13? Oh yeah. I think that means I'm winning the nieces and nephews competition.

Isn't there some single word to say "nieces and nephews"? We've got siblings for "brothers and sisters", parents for "mom and dad", so you'd think they would have a shorter one for "nieces and nephews". Go figure.

The language here is getting better-ish, but I feel like I've recently been leveling off. It's time to start up the old brain again and learn some more things. I'm at a point now where I can get across a point, but I really want to just speak like a straight Malagasy. Which will take some more work.

P1020522Work and time. Two things that never seem to agree. You work, you lose time. You try to enjoy the time, you get no work done. Hence the importance of finding joy IN the work. Enjoy the time you spend working. Oddly, it seems that the harder you work as a missionary, the more you enjoy it. I'm not sure how that makes sense, but that's how it is.

I guess I'll throw in that I've gone on splits a couple times recently, and it helps like crazy. Seeing the verses that other people use, how they teach, just way good stuff. I'm still loving working with Elder Eppich, but it's fun to change things up sometimes.

I'm sure this email wasn't entirely satisfying (just a lot of me rambling) but still try to enjoy it. More will come next week. Also, regarding the late-coming of last week's email, we were just super late getting back from Analakely (traffic in Madagascar. Gotta love it), so we didn't have time to go to the cyber before heading out to work. Today we almost had to do the same thing, since nearly every cyber is closed on account of Easter. Apparently Christ said we should hold his sacrifice close to our hearts by getting drunk for three days in a row. Way to be people.

That's pretty much all for today, so stay busy everybody, and find joy in the journey.

- Elder Arrington