Ah, the trials of a missionary. Finding people to truly progress in the gospel really is a challenge after all. But it does happen. And, as Michael says, no missionary work is wasted.
Subject: "I believe he turns his head." "Sounds exhausting."
It's amazing how fast the work here can flip one direction or another. Two examples.
A week from yesterday, there was an investigator named Mamitiana at church. It was her first time coming, and we had never met her before. It turns out that one of her co-workers is an RM and they got started talking about the church; and thus, she begun to want to learn. Anyway, we set up a lesson with her (and her husband, who at the time had no idea of the "goings on") for Wednesday.
Come Wednesday, we pop into their house and introduce ourselves. The husband was off in the other room (actually behind a curtain in the SAME room) and didn't want to talk to us. Okay. So we talked to Mamitiana for a little bit, trying to learn why she was investigating the church, explaining our purpose, just a basic first meet-up. After a while, the husband (Florent) waltzes in. I try to include him by introducing myself, and he responds with, "yeah, I don't know who you are, and yet I walk in to find you just talking to my wife about some church." Well, we had actually invited you to join at the very beginning, but you didn't want to.
To make a fairly long story short, we actually had a really good talk, and it turns out that he could be a really interesting investigator. He ended the time by saying, "feel free to come back whenever you want". Well that's cool!
So we called back on Saturday morning to confirm our appointment (for later that day), and Mamitiana told us that she couldn't learn anymore. Apparently her husband had forbidden her from learning. One week, and two golden investigators were found and gone. We're still trying to contact the husband and figure out what brought this up, but my head is still spinning at just how fast everything flipped around.
Second example: on Tuesday we tracted into this couple named Josoa and Nirine, and they were WAY nice. After our talk with them I wrote a description of the two in my planner, lest I forget who they are: "Way smiley, nice people." We left them with a pamphlet about the gospel of Jesus Christ for them to read, and set up a return appointment for Saturday.
Saturday rolls around, and they didn't answer their phone. Okay, no big deal. We stop by their house at the appointed time, and Josoa is gone, leaving his wife to face off with us. And she leads out by saying that the pamphlet that we gave them "wasn't convincing". Okay, I can live with that. But did you pray about it? No. Well there's your problem. She almost tried to brush us off, but we set up another return appointment with them so that we could talk more about the gospel.
Side note: it turns out that they didn't answer their phone because Josoa was gone, and Nirine doesn't know how to use the phone.
When I first came to this area, it seemed that we didn't have very many good investigators. A couple, but not many. But now, even when we are finding some, they either shut us down, keep dogging us, or refuse to progress.
That last one has a lot to do with prayer. A lot of people (whether it's isolated to Madagascar or common to everywhere) actually have a problem with praying. Nobody answers when you ask them why they won't ask God for an answer or help, but every time that we come back, they still haven't done it. Even people that are diligent at reading often won't ask God to know the truth.
And when people refuse to pray to God for an answer, they are probably not going to get one. Which makes it really hard to help them.
I actually just realized something about this area. If I had to put our biggest problem in one word, I would say: consistency. People flip from wanting to learn to not wanting to at the drop of a hat, and with no apparent reason. Even those who are nice enough to set up a time for us missionaries to come back and teach them just aren't home when we come back. Or the next day. Or the next week. I mean, if you don't want to learn, just shut me down. I can deal with rejection. But acting like you want to and then just wasting the missionaries time (God's time, really) doesn't really strike me as a useful activity.
And because of that, we've been cycling through a ton of people, but we simply don't have a lot of investigators to talk about because none of them are learning consistently enough to really be progressing.
But, we keep working. From a lot of work, we are starting to see some progress in the right direction. Especially in getting help from our branch. Each week they hand out assignments to go visit with less active members. They're starting to understand the importance of strengthening each other, rather than depending on the white guys!
Sorry, I know I've recently been sounding really negative about all of this. Realize that we are still thrusting in our sickle with our might, and praying for success. My companion turned to me a day or two ago and said something very interesting: "I feel like even though these people won't listen to us, one day, they'll accept the gospel. Even the people that die hard REFUSE, I feel like they will just walk into church one day, ready to learn. Whether it's after one year, two years, or twenty, one day these people will be ready to learn." And if that's what God wants, who am I to demand anything else?
So I really like what he said. According to Preach My Gospel, no missionary effort is wasted. We're putting in our effort, and whether Elder Ranomenjanahary and I see the fruits of it or not, we're doing our best to bring other unto God. And God will not let that go to waste.
Okay, major subject change.
Dad mentioned that BYU not only won their game against a team who "absolutely tromped the team they played last week", but BYU is the one that did the tromping this time. Thus, the tromper becomes the tromp-ed. How about that.
It seems that there is also a new seminary teacher in town. I suggest that somebody finds his house and starts breaking him in as the new "guy that gets TPed by all the seminary students" guy. After all, we Hillsboro-ites have traditions to care for.
Speaking of traditions, I just remembered that my companion and I got to attend a wake this last week. We (as a mission) are trying to be more respectful of Malagasy culture. There's a lot of things that we didn't know about for a while, and we come off as way offensive. But we're trying to improve now. And step one is: going to a wake. There are all kinds of little phrases and tricks and such that you are supposed to follow during those, but it seems that neither I nor my companion (who, I might add, is a Malagasy) didn't know. But we got somebody to help us out, and they said that we did pretty well. Honestly, just SHOWING UP is showing a lot of respect.
(In a less respectful way, this was also my first time actually seeing a dead body. Even while we were standing there trying to be nice and proper, my mind was wondering if I should start inspecting the body for clues about who killed him! That's what I get for all those episodes of Psych and NCIS)
Back to Dad's letter. Steven also seems to be enjoying one of the coolest jobs ever, for which I congratulate him. I know that I keep giving "advice", but here's a last little tidbit. Try to act as nice and happy and just excited as you can. I think I mentioned last week that people (especially new people meeting for the first time) tend to mirror emotions. If you feel awkward or something at them, they probably won't enjoy it, and won't come back. Which makes your job more difficult. Just focus on making it a good experience for the other people, and you're bound to do well. Have an awesome time kid.
Not so exciting is this news about "the Abel". Just be aware (and I'm sure you've already heard this) that even though the class sucks, it makes you that much smarter and better as a student. But really Ms. Abel somehow gets formulas and ideas into your brain and sticks them there with Gorilla Glue. The class is rough, but coming out of it is good.
And with any luck, she'll keep calling you David, like she did with me, and you'll get some candy for that. There's always an upside.
And it seems that Steven has figured out how awesome piano lessons are. A lesson that didn't enter my brain until I wormed my way OUT of them. You don't know what you got 'til it's gone, right?
Finally, Dad mentioned that the Brad Wilcox talk that I sent to you all slid into this month's Ensign. Because "it's that good". Just let it be known, I was a fan of that talk BEFORE it was popular.
Actually, Dad's mentioning of that reminded me of something that I heard in the MTC: "the average person has to hear something seven times before they actually remember it". Interestingly, the guy that said that repeated it at least seven times during my MTC stay. But my point with that is that I've told you about it, now it's in the Ensign... how many more times do you need to be told! Read the article! As Dad said, "It absolutely changes the way I think about repentance and self-improvement."
As for the rest of you, keep the letters coming. I love hearing about Mom's work and projects that she's doing, Julie raising her kids and trying to juggle school and work in there, the progress that Stacey is making in so many directions, and everything else that you all send me.
Life is good. Live it well.
- Elder Arrington
PS: Read the talk by Brad Wilcox! I promise that it won't hurt! (I believe that makes four times you've all been told that, if you include the Ensign as one)