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.