Monday, January 27, 2014

Week 7 in Mahajunga

Some pictures from a little trip this week…

Subject:  “It. Is. TIME. Ooooo.”

We bought a new iron this week. The old one broke sometime before it crisped the sleeve of the shirt I was ironing, which is now the consistency of a Tostito chip. Which makes me hungry.

P1050540After a little searching around we found a suitable replacement, brought it home and put it to work. And that's when I found out that it has the most powerful burst of steam in the history of the world.

I filled the iron up with water and pushed the steam button, and it just about knocked me to the ground. After that I starting shooting it at the walls, pretending that I was blasting bad guys away like Ironman. Or like... Iron-man?

But enough about that. Ulrich, an 18 year old recent convert, has started helping us. He came up to us one day and said that he wants to go on a mission, and wanted to know how to prepare his papers(we said to talk to the branch president). Then we stopped by his house a few days later and he said that he wants to get some teaching practice in, and asked if he could come teaching with us. Well of course you can good man!

P1050551And what a stud that kid turned out to be. He attends Preach My Gospel classes and seminary, and is pretty good at teaching. He also wasn't afraid to speak up or bear testimony in lessons, so he was a great member to have.

So he helped us on Wednesday, and has found a couple other times to help us throughout the week too. We also get Bernardo, the 13 year old beast of a member, out with us sometimes, so we're starting to get help from a bunch of people in the branch. The actual branch missionaries are always "too busy", but it's good to know that some people can make time for the gospel. The branch missionaries are actually way good, but they don't really like spending a whole day walking around, wearing a white shirt and tie. But what 17 year old does?

Ulrich was also really funny when he helped us. We were walking down the street when a guy called us missionaries, so we stopped to talk to him. He explained that he had learned from missionaries in the past and had been way diligent, and was almost baptized, but changed his mind at the last second because his neighbors told him not to join the church. He walked away after that, as friendlily as possible.

P1050566After that man was gone, Ulrich turned to us and said, half laughing,"he knew the gospel was true, but was more afraid of his neighbors than of God? Does his salvation depend on what his neighbors think? How stupid is that guy?"

I just got a kick out of how straightforward Ulrich was in the way he said it. Seriously though, it's kind of depressing how many people will claim that they know the church is true, but don't join because of external, unimportant issues. And I'm sure that's not a problem specific to Madagascar.

On Saturday we had a branch activity, trying to get more less actives back to church. And the next day, out of nowhere, our church attendance jumped up by almost twenty people! It turns out that all you have to do sometimes is offer people food, and suddenly they remember that the church is true. Go figure.

P1050595They also didn't plan any music, although they wanted music, so I got to come to the rescue with my flash drive that I happened to have on hand. We enjoyed the soundtracks from the Prince of Egypt and Brother Bear, and songs by Josh Groban. Sweet!

One common problem here in Madagascar is that people don't understand the concept of baptizing their child WHEN THE CHILD TURNS EIGHT. So yesterday the branch president (yes, the BRANCH PRESIDENT) came up to us and said, "we have a bunch of kids that are ready to get baptized. What do we need to do to get them dunked?".

P1050627Well, they need to have an interview with YOU.

It turns out that all of them are already nine years old, which means that they have to be taught by the missionaries. Because, you know, missionaries are just full of free time to spend on teaching people that shouldn't have to be taught.

I'm totally down for teaching the kids, but they shouldn't have to be taught in the first place. And isn't that something the branch president should know?

There's my venting for the week. I guess that's why they have people that DO know the rules (i.e. missionaries) so that we can teach others. It's just frustrating sometimes, having to work with people who know so little of how the church runs. It's not their fault by any means, but still. Imagine how Christ felt when He had to correct the apostles, or when He repeatedly told them of His death and resurrection and they STILL didn't understand it.

There's another random side note. I've been reading Jesus the Christ, and I'm at the part just a few days before the cross. Good stuff.

P1050634Elder Rakotonjanahary decided to take us to this awesome part of the ocean for our P-day activity, which rocked. We passed by a boabab tree and took some pictures, but got caught in the act by a guy that said we shouldn't climb it. So we left. The picture that I attached is with Ulrich, who came with us on this escapade, along with a couple branch missionaries, Stephano and Fabien.

The ocean was beautiful, with blue water and white sand. We also found this small creature who's name I cannot recall in English. It reminded me of Mr. Krabbs from that one show. Owner of the Krusty Krabb. We wanted to feed it some crabapples, but had none. If only I could remember what it is called! It also refused to smile for the camera, but I'll guess it was just having a crabby day.

P1050651After that we started wandering more inland, and found the jungle. Which was also fantastic. We saw some awesome views, took some cool pictures, and Fabien even found time to catch a snake! What a P-day!

In short, there are some difficulties here in Mahajanga, but that's why the missionaries (or "workers") are sent. There wouldn't be much purpose for the missionaries if things were already running perfectly.

Either way, we'll get things running smoother than butter on a bald monkey.

I should probably end this ranting now, and I'll try to send a more useful and organized email next week.

P1050667Have a great week everybody!

- Elder Arrington

PS: Mom, it turns out that I DID get the pajama shirt, which completes a set of very soft pajamas.

PSS: Emily and Dave, I got your Christmas card, and loved the "Diaper Equation". Just think, with only one diapered bum left you could have that whole stinking situation wiped away and thrown away in the outside garbage can by next Christmas! (get the pun?) P1050671

Monday, January 20, 2014

Week 6 in Mahajunga

The time is going faster as time goes by.  Even Michael is noticing.

Subject:  “Textbood carcissism?  Agreed.”

I always tell people that I have about a year left of my mission, but my companion keeps pointing out that I don't have a year left. I'm down to SEVEN MONTHS. How the charcoal did that happen??

P1050509I worked out a little math today, and that means there are only FIVE transfers left! That's way too short a time. I took some comfort in the fact that there's still 30 weeks, but still. The end of my "dash" is flying in fast.

And that's why we always try to work in the present. I've recently started a plan to listen to every talk that President Thomas S. Monson has given in general conference from beginning to end (can you believe that he's been talking in general conference since 1971? O-L-D!). In the mornings and nights when there is a little free time, what better to listen to than talks from the prophet? Anyway, he mentions a few times about the importance of living in the present, so that we won't have to look back on "empty yesterdays". Now there's a thought.

Elder Rakotonjanahary and I were teaching an investigator when the investigator's friend, who was sitting in on the lesson, asked if they could hear more about our church. Wow, there's a question we would love to hear more often. So we came back later and taught her yesterday. Apparently her parents are totally against learning from us, but she is already married, so we're going to try to get her husband to start learning too.

This lady is Muslim, and knows the Bible really well. We started by asking if she had any questions for us. And she did. The lesson continued on for an hour and a half, and I must say, I dominated teaching during that time. Of course, the Holy Ghost is the real teacher; but I gave Him one darn good companion.

The lady started by asking about changes between the Old and New Testaments. I answered by showing her verses in the Book of Mormon that explain that the Law of Moses was just a lower law in the first place, and was destined to change (thank you Abinadi!).

P1050514Then she asked how the commandments could change since God doesn't change. We explained that He does not change His purpose: our salvation. Sometimes, the different situations and different people require that He change His commandments, but He is always the same.

The lady wasn't too sure about that, until we asked her what God's law was before the Law of Moses. There's a stumper for people. She understood after that.

Then she started asking about living prophets, suggesting that there should be a prophet, and only one, living today. What a breath of fresh air that was from the people that "follow the Bible", and yet think that a room of babbling people "speaking in tongues" is a room full of prophets (for Paul's thoughts on the gift of tongues, see 1 Corinthians 14. And then repent.). The lady also mentioned that there is a verse in Isaiah that talks about a prophet that will be given a book, but say that he can't read the book, because he can't read. My companion and I looked at each other and mouthed, "Joseph Smith?" We ended the lesson by giving the lady a First pamphlet to read before the next lesson.

That was an awesome lesson. An investigator that focused on us and asked good questions, and actually accepted the answers given. Of course it wasn't just me that did so well teaching. My companion was doing great, and so was the 13 year old member that was with us (and he is a STUD).

Probably the only person in the room that did NOT do well teaching was a member, the mother of the original investigator, who walked in halfway through the lesson and decided to take over our jobs. When SHE opened her mouth everything turned into yelling, debating and Bible-bashing, until my companion and I quieted them down and taught peacefully. It was a really cool contrast.

On the other hand, we taught another family that just would not understand. We got stuck talking about baptism with them. We explained about the authority that is needed, the importance of the authority, how it is given, etc. So then we asked a super difficult question.

Where is that authority? (remember that this family claimed to understand the Restoration since before I got here). And they said, "in the LDS church and the Catholic church".

Aaaaand a swing and a miss.

We tried asking them how they understood the Restoration, and according to them:

Joseph Smith was looking for the truth and God's church. He prayed really hard, and was blessed. Then he found the true church, and it was named the LDS church.

Strike two.

Even if that were the truth, wouldn't that make this church the ONLY one that God accepts? Why would God have more than one true church?

People here just amaze me sometimes.

After that they hit a few foul balls, before hitting a dribbler to the pitcher and getting tagged out at first base to end the inning.

Meanwhile, a young boy named Brian was standing in right field saying "free snow cone!"

Back on the upside, we saw a dog today. A REAL dog. Not the kind that tries to kill you, but the kind that has been trained well and is super friendly and just awesome. Like an American dog. His owner got him to sit, lie down, and do a couple other tricks with almost zero problems, and the pooch walked up to me and just slobbered on my arm (he drooled as much as Parker apparently does), until he started playfully biting my hand. I was still scared that he would eat me, so I rubbed his belly. He was also HUMONGOUS. Random, I know, but it pretty much made my day.

So that's pretty much been my week. We'll be going to the church later today to teach piano lessons to anybody that comes (hopefully, myself), and then it's out to work. Not much change in the missionary life.

But life in America seems to be as lively as ever. It seems that missionaries are now spilling into Brazil faster than visas can be written, and America is getting the excess. Cool!

Stay busy everybody, and live in the present!

- Elder Arrington

PS: Mom, I loved your story about the "Family Bridge" dinner, and Steven's comment. Cracks me up.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Week 5 in Mahajunga

Another very entertaining letter this week!

Subject:  “Years of academy training wasted!”

Some people wrestle with crocodiles. Some go sky diving. But if you really want some adrenaline pumping action, get a Malagasy haircut.

They do a pretty good job, considering that they have no professional training. They just have some sketchy ways of going about it. This guy that cut my hair today, for instance, decided to taper my hair down by sticking a razor blade on a comb and rubbed the comb on my head. They also love using razors (and I mean exacto-blade kind of razors) to carve out around the ears. I found myself praying very hard that his hands wouldn't slip. But I survived.

P1050470That's one of the cool things about Madagascar. The people do super ghetto stuff, but pull it off super well.

But enough of that. I've been working on learning the Malagasy dialect of Mahajanga, which I would say is like Madagascar's "South". People say things here that, if said in English, would be way black. For instance, instead of saying "aiza ianao?" (where are you?) they'll cut out part of the word and say, "aia nao?" (whe' you at?). So that's been pretty sweet.

Also, I've been getting better at playing hymns in Sacrament meeting. They let me choose the songs, so I give them the numbers before the meeting, and I do okay since I've been able to practice the songs before actually performing them. But I still make mistakes.

Yesterday, for example, I made it to the closing hymn, "Count Your Blessings," which I felt pretty comfortable with. So after the conductor stood up, I started into the introduction... to "How Firm a Foundation". Yup. I played the wrong song. It turns out that I had given them the wrong hymn number. So we had a nice awkward pause while everyone stared at me and I looked back like, "what?" Still, they handled everything pretty well, we sang "How Firm a Foundation" and moved on.

P1050476So you live and you learn. I also had a cool experience from my studies this last week. I had been flipping through D+C looking for a certain scripture when I found one that talked about Christ going to the Spirit World. I remembered having talked with some other missionaries about it, whether or not Jesus had come to the Spirit Prison. According to D+C, He did not, because He COULD not.

A couple of days later, we were talking to Ulrish, a recent convert, when he asked us about that very question. Some other members told him that Christ had not gone to the Spirit Prison, but didn't tell him why. I unsheathed my scriptures and joyfully shouted, "D+C 138:35-37!"

Sometimes you learn things when you don't mean to, but they pay off later on. There's a sacrament talk somewhere in there.

Two more stories. We were teaching this one family one day, but they kept interrupting the lesson to tell their kids to leave. We would be in the middle of bearing testimony of the Book of Mormon or something when the mom would stand up and yell at her kids in the next room, which had opened the door, to "go away and shut up! We're praying in here!"

P1050479Good job lady. That's exactly what church and praying is about. I finally stopped the lesson, after an older sibling started shaking a fist at the kids, and I told them to stop. If they want to learn the gospel, then they can't be yelling at their kids like that. It distracts from the lesson, it sends the Holy Ghost fleeing, and, quite simply, it's not what Jesus would do.

They apologized and agreed that they shouldn't be doing it. And every time we go there now, they don't yell at their kids. How about that?

Last story. Do you remember Blaze from last week's email? He dropped talked himself this week. Badly.

He sat us down and said, "look guys. I don't want to lie to you. I've been thinking a lot about how to break the news to you, and I just don't have time to read".

Right. Because that is ever a reasonable excuse. I asked him how much time he had spent thinking about how to tell us that, and he said "a long time".

P1050483So instead of planning how to say that you didn't read, why didn't you just... read?

And he said that he doesn't have time, and he doesn't want to waste our by making us come back. I focused on staying very calm during most of the talk, mainly to keep myself from strangling the guy. It's just such a stupid excuse!!

But we left nicely, and now there is a Book of Mormon in his house, so maybe one day he'll just decide to dive into it. It's happened before, right?

And that was my week. But it sounds like everybody else has been quite busy as well. Very busy indeed.

As for everybody's Christmas packages, I have gotten the ones from mom and Stacey. Actually, Stacey's made it here almost by Thanksgiving, so no worries there at all. We downed that candy like nobody's business.

And Mom, it looks like everything in the picture got here, except for the pajama shirt and snowman thing. Interesting choices.

Julie, it sounds like James had a fun time in the tumbling class. Have you considered signing him up for gymnastics? Then you and Stacey could have "Dancing Darci and Gymnastics James". The alliteration alone makes it worth it.

I think I'm starting to babble again, so that's probably all for today. Have a great week everybody!

I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

PS: Stacey, I have not gotten the actual Christmas card yet, but I have seen the picture. I printed it out and show it to people that we teach, to see if they can find me. And they love it.

I forgot to explain this week's pictures, so here you go:

- The plaque at our church that reads "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" got blown down by a strong wind, and shattered. Ulrish, one of my favorite recent converts ever, is holding a few of the pieces.

- There is this kid that hangs around the hotely that we eat lunch at. He's the son of the owner. I call him Mogley, because he reminds me of the kid from the Jungle Book. He's much more smiley and awesome than he looks in the picture, but he froze in the middle of dancing when I pulled out my camera.

- Elder Rakotonjanahary and I rode a pousse-pousse on the way to a lesson, finally, and I snapped a picture. I'll have to get a picture of an entire pousse-pousse sometime. By the way, aren't pousse-pousses food from El Salvador?

- We had a ton of people come to English class this last Saturday. More than I have had ever before. It's getting difficult to teach them all, since everybody just wants to have a conversation with me. But they are all really good at English, and great students.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Week 4 in Mahajunga

As we start the new year and enjoying winter, things are heating up in Mahajunga!

Subject:  “You will join me for dinner.  That’s not a request!”

So we've been teaching this guy named Blaze for a while. When I first heard his name I was like, "this guy is going to be AWESOME". He now seems to be trying to prove me wrong.

We had given him some chapters to read in the Book of Mormon, and he didn't. He said that his eyes are really bad and his glasses are broken. Okay, decent excuse. So we set up a plan with him so that he could have one of his kids read to him, and he would listen.

P1050464We stopped by before our actual appointment and asked Blaze how things were going and if he had read. He said yes. Awesome!

Then we came for the actual appointment, and he said that he has not read at all. What the heck?

He still claimed that there was NO WAY he could have read. When we asked him why he didn't just follow the plan that we had set with him, he said that he doesn't want to bother his kids. Boy, you are SUPPOSED to read the Book of Mormon with the family!

Anyway, Blaze had also, after three weeks, fixed his glasses. How did he solve it? Super glue. It took the guy THREE WEEKS to think of SUPER GLUE. I even asked him why he hadn't tried harder to find a solution for that, and he said that he had been super busy. Apparently "busy" is Malagasy for "sitting outside your house and staring at the wall," because that's all he's been doing every time that we stop by his house.

But the worst part was what he said to us about religion in general. He said, "the only real difference between my church (Catholic) and yours, is that I believe in praying in the morning and at night and then not worrying about God throughout the day, and you guys think that we're supposed to pray all day."

I felt like Brian Regan's act about "point/counter-point about reading". All I could think of was, "I'd like to yield the remainder of my time to my opponent."

We tried to explain to him that that is exactly what the gospel is supposed to be. It doesn't mean that you stop life, kneel down and pray 24/7, but the gospel is a way of living life. It is instructions on how to be a good person and how to inherit the kingdom of God.

But Blaze just wanted to separate God out, and keep everything in their own hemispheres. We're still working with him, but if he doesn't start progressing then there is a drop talk looming on the horizon.

That being said, I'm dreading drop talks, because we have no new investigators. My companion will only let us contact when we have nothing else to do, and since our schedule is decently full (of people that are not progressing that well) we don't contact a lot. Thus, we are stuck with unprogressing investigators. I'm help him understand that we are supposed to be contacting (and dropping non progressing investigators) all the time, and hopefully we'll be able to do so.

Other than that, things are still going really good. We have a few investigators that are progressing really well, possibly my favorite one being this guy named Donna. He's just really diligent at reading and now will be able to attend church, starting this coming Sunday. Awesome!

Oh, I forgot to mention, we actually DID find one new family, that could progress well. The parents are named Edmund and Nirine, and they seem like they will be diligent. My only problem with them (and pretty much everybody in the world right now) is that they yell at their children. It's the worst.

Especially when you're in the middle of a lesson and the kid knocks a bowl over or something, and they FREAK OUT. And there goes the Spirit. No Spirit, no love in the family. But that's why we give them the gospel!

Honestly, even if you take out the eternal benefits of living the gospel (you know, that whole "eternal life" thing), following the principles that our church teaches just makes you happier in life. I've been watching a few of those "I'm a Mormon" videos recently, and basically everybody mentions that living the gospel of Jesus Christ helps them find greater meaning in life, and it helps them get through the tough times that they face. Why wouldn't you want that?

On more side note. I've decided that, to me,the most ridiculous people in the world are those that believe in the Bible and reject the Book of Mormon. Sometimes they'll say that they believe in the Bible because they feel good when they read it. The Book of Mormon is the same.

Some say they believe it because of the people that died because of the Bible. Guess what? The Book of Mormon is the same.

This probably just sounds like a bunch of random babbling (which it is), but there is a quote in the Book of Mormon itself that says it better than me. I think it's Nephi who says something to the effect of, "those that believe in the Bible will believe in this book." Interesting.

Also interesting, but in a completely different way, I saw a funny billboard today. It was an advertisement for some fancy, French milk, branded "Leo". It was funny because, in Malagasy, leo means bored. So I was like, "it's boring milk!" It made me laugh. But maybe you had to be there.

So that's basically been my week in a nutshell. Our mission ran out of Daily Planners in English, Malagasy, and even French, so I've been using a notebook this last week. So no worries there.

Anyway, keep being awesome everybody.

Until next week!

- Elder Arrington

PS. I just wanted to add a picture that we took. There are tons of these little three wheeled taxis that we get to take all the time, and we had a chance to take a picture with one today. Fun.