Monday, February 24, 2014

Week 11 in Mahajunga

I note that as of this email, Michael has slightly less than 6 months remaining in his mission time.  What an experience he is having!  More great pictures, but you have to read the explanations at the end…

Subject:  “Great, now I’M the bad guy.”

So some guy just randomly wandered into church yesterday. He, Bruno, apparently lives super far away, but still in our area, and had just finished working when he decided to come to church. So he wandered in around 10:15 and stayed until the end. We talked to him and set up a lesson for today at 6pm, at the church. I'll let you know how that goes. He just might be a golden investigator!

P1050808Justin, whom some of you may remember to be a super diligent investigator, didn't come to church. But he had told us that before hand. He is also giving us a good debate and argument about the gospel, trying to disprove us at every turn. Okay, not to disprove us. He just studies everything out really well, finds questions, and wants them explained. Fortunately, missionaries are pretty good at answering questions.

One of his questions was about our spirits and whether or not God has a body. We reasoned with him for a while, showed him a couple of scriptures, and finally had to show him a picture of the Plan of Salvation. We actually had to draw it, but since we were at the church there was a very handy whiteboard at hand. Handily.

We mostly just explained about the pre-existence and the war in heaven, since that's what most of his questions were about. By the end of it he was like, "oooooohh... that actually makes total sense!"

P1050821I think I also started to annoy him with how often I told him that our faith depends on the Book of Mormon. Every point that he brought up I answered back by telling him the church's stand on that issue, and that if the Book of Mormon is true then so is the church and the church's doctrine (or rather, Christ's doctrine). People can't argue with that.

Now he just has to read and pray and get an answer that it's true! Then it's on to the waters of baptism and eventually the temple.

Nirine and Edmond, whom I may or may not have mentioned before, have yet to come to church. Nirine has been pretty sick, but they are planning to come. Their children, on the other hand, come every week. And they love it. The parents should be following soon.

P1050822Seriously, it's the most devious feeling having investigators get involved with things at church. They start making friends, enjoying the lessons, and all the while the missionaries are lurking in the shadows, saying, "mwahaha...we've got you now!"

Speaking of Edmond, we were talking with him outside of a lesson, and asked what he does for work. He shrugged and said, "I go out to the middle of nowhere and hunt crocodiles to sell." WHAT!?

It turns out that there's a whole process to it. He sets a loop of cable down in the water with some food in it, and when the crocodile bites it, you pull the loop tight. The croc starts fighting, but eventually just wears itself out, so Edmond wraps the cable around the mouth, binds the feet, and throws it in the truck to be carried away and soled. Selled? Sellen? None of those sound right.

P1050828Anyway, he has a really cool job description.

There is also this kid named Patrick. He has been learning for a long time, but doesn't come to church. I keep feeling like he wants to, but he never comes. We've introduced him to members, brought Ulrich the recent convert to help teach him (they are old friends) which he really enjoys, but Patrick still just doesn't come to church. This week we found out why.

Patrick's mother, a die hard Catholic, won't let him. She says that it's a huge sin to change churches. You've got to pick one that you like and stick with it. I don't think that that's really how it works, but...

All of this came from Patrick himself, who admitted that he does want to come to church. We asked him to talk to his mom again and let him try out our church to see if it is true. More to come.

P1050836Here in Madagascar there are apparently zero members that know that they need to baptize their kids when they turn eight, so there are tons of kids that have to learn from the missionaries. It's actually pretty fun teaching them (although I wish my companion were better at teaching kids), but we could be out teaching new families and such.

As for Elder Rakotonjanahary, he has admitted that he isn't great at teaching children. The fact is that he teaches them exactly as if they were forty pastors that spent their whole lives studying the Bible. Which is how he teaches everybody else. But that's a different story.

The short version is that now we have like nine children that we are teaching. Most of them can learn together at once, so that saves us some time. They are all pretty well-mannered and listen and answer questions better than most adults.

P1050837The kids have also been to primary for a good portion of their lives, so they know the basics of the church. All we have to do is straighten out a few misconceptions.

After we taught the big group of kids, Elder Rakotonjanahary found a dead spider in a tree and we took some pictures with it. I have to admit that grabbing it was probably the most terrifying experience of my life. I kept having this fear that it would come back to life and eat me.

The member that was with us (Nirine), who was holding the spider at the time, didn't help at all. He kept twitching and pretending to freak out when I reached for it. The little jerk. But Nirine is one of the funniest people that I know, so it was all good.

P1050751My final news is with regards to my feet. There had been some warts growing on my toe that were starting to get painful, so we had to go to the doctor to get them removed. Not a pleasant experience. They stuck a needle of anesthetic in to prepare it to be cut out, and I'm pretty sure that the needle hurt more than just cutting it out would have, but it's done now, and my foot is "heeling" up pretty well. Ha.

My companion has also had to get some dental work done, so we've been pretty busy for the last little while going to and from doctors. That being said, our stats from this week were still quite good, and this coming week is looking even better.

P1050752Have a great week everybody!


- Elder Arrington

PS: The pictures that I sent are:

- a picture of my foot before the operation.

- a picture of my fear before the operation.

- Nirine caught a frog one night while he was with us, so we snapped some pictures. And then gave it to the person we were visiting to eat.

- pictures of us teaching one child with her parents. Her dad has been inactive, but is just now starting to come back to activity. The mom has always been diligent.

- pictures of us teaching the group of kids and playing with the spider afterward.

P1050843P1050845- pictures of this sweet little go-kart thing at one of our investigator's house, the one titled: "Cruising", and the other: "oh no there's a green shell bouncing across the road". I'll let you decide which one is which.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Week 10 in Mahajunga

If you haven’t caught on, virtually all of Michael’s subject lines are quotes from movies.  Some of them are recognizable.  Many are not.  This one is in the latter category.

Subject:  “You play ball like a GIRL!!”

Best highlight of the week? Definitely teaching Justin.

Justin pulled us off the street one night and explained that he has seen a lot of missionaries, but never talked to them, and then asked what we are doing here in Mada. He also spoke to me in Malagasy and avoided calling me vazaha to my face, which was super nice. So we explained our business, and set up a return appointment with him for Saturday.

On Saturday he led us to his house (quite a large house, in fact), sat us down, and let out his real questions. He has been searching for the true church for some time now, reading and studying every religious book he can get his hands on, from the Bible to the Koran to other study helps from major religions. He set a goal for himself to find God's true church before July.

Wait, the true church? THE true church? That could seriously be the first person that has ever said that through my entire mission. People here just don't have a concept of false churches. They do, but they think that as long as you know the name of Jesus Christ then you'll be saved. No matter what you believe. But Justin understood without even having to be told!

Finally he stopped talking and asked if there was any solid way to know that ours is the true church, and how he could know. Well, my fine, golden investigator, let me introduce to you my good friend, the Book of Mormon.

We talked about that for a few minutes, promised to bring one for him at our next meeting, and invited him to church. He said that he might come, but might be late.

I walked out of that lesson almost squealing for joy. How much better could an investigator get!

And Justin WAS late to church. But he came! And had an awesome time. He met with a couple of members (that we more or less forced to talk to him) and enjoyed his time there. We also slid him a Book of Mormon, so he's looking good. Really good.

My only beef with him was that he lives super far away, so going to his house to teach him could be a problem. Then, right before we closed the first lesson, we asked if he could learn at the church. As a matter of fact, Justin said that he would prefer that, since he usually hangs out near there anyway! So we have a super cool investigator, ready to read the Book of Mormon, willing to attend church, and we won't have to travel crazy far to visit him! Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot!

We are also teaching this guy named Frank, who is just about as awesome as Justin. Frank is way polite (almost to a fault, actually), ready to read the Book of Mormon, reads pamphlets, and seems to understand everything that we talk about. So I'm loving teaching him too!

The problem with golden investigators (of which I have had a few already) is this: The people, such as Mario and Santatra, and Noel, back in Ambohimanarina, read the pamphlets, work hard, and study and pray. The missionaries pretty much just sit in auto-pilot while the investigator flies on. So I can never take credit for baptizing them!

Speaking of baptism, we have a couple of people that should be getting dunked (in the ocean!) on March 8th. Jean and Clementine, and Pascall have made the roster, with a couple of others working to get there.

Among those "less golden but still progressing" investigators are Edmond and Nirine, and two of their children. They are all progressing very well, but just not coming to church. We had a problem with Edmond not being here for a while because of his work, but he's back now. Which is good.

One thing that I have personally been working on is focusing on the Book of Mormon in my teaching. For a while, I would try to solve people's concerns with the Bible. Does God have a body, is he the same as Jesus, what do we have to do to be saved... if the Book of Mormon is true, then everything that this church claims as doctrine is true. It depends on the Book of Mormon, so just read that and find out!

And I think that it's paying off. People are reading more and arguing less, so... no downside.

I've also realized that pretty much anything other than focusing on the Book of Mormon is just a way of trying to convince others that the church is true. Teaching from the Bible is just going to become an argument over who is better at the Bible, and you'll both end up just mad and not closer to finding the truth than before.

So, it turns out that that "Book of Mormon" thing is pretty important. In fact, I would suggest that it would be important enough to place it as the keystone in the arch of our church! I wonder if anybody else has thought of that before...

And that's pretty much been our week.

Dad, it sounds like you've got me hooked up for all the good scenes at BYU-I. Housing I'm still not sure about, whether on or off campus. What would you say are the pros and cons of either one?

Concerning this rental car business, I was actually wondering what kind of car situation would exist up there. A rental sounds great! Much better than the bike I was imagining... in the snow...

Mom, you mentioned that Dad dropped you off in Silver Lake this last week. Did he leave you a life jacket?

...get it?

Lindsay, you mentioned an interesting situation. Your solution sounds as good as anything I could think of. Have you considered having a church dinner at Arbor Manor, having the the deacons and beehives (or someone else) serve so you can invite your normal staff to attend for a free dinner and a spiritual thought? Just a thought.

You might also try looking up something that other people did in a similar situation.

David, I loved your epiphany. That's actually a question that I've been thinking about asking people in lessons. What does God gain from giving us commandments? What purpose does that achieve? It makes a whole lot more sense when you realize the goal that he has for us.

You actually reminded me of a talk that mission president showed us a while ago. It's called "His Grace is Sufficient" by Brad Wilcox. I would highly recommend for further study of the Fall and the Atonement.

That's all for me this week, and I wish you all a great week. By the next time I email you all I'll have finished my chick mish! (or passed Slump Day, as some apparently call it)

I love you all!

- Elder Arrington

Monday, February 10, 2014

Week 9 in Mahajunga

Still more great missionary challenges.  And stories!  And pictures!

Subject:  “Well it’s Groundhog’s Day. Again.”

Our "Most Thunderous Investigator Award" goes to this guy we are teaching named Alex. Like "Alex the lion" from that one movie. He is a member of this church called "Let my people go", which prays on saturday, screams and shouts during prayertimes, and is just generally... odd.

Alex lectured us (quite loudly) for like fifteen minutes that the only way to REALLY know if any given church is true or not, is whether or not the have the gift of tongues. Having it means that your church is true. Not having it means that your church is wrong.

P1050718The really crazy thing was that right after that he explained that speaking in tongues could be from God, and it could be from Satan. "So you have to be really careful which people speaking in tongues you believe in".

In the end my head was spinning just trying to straighten out his own contradictions, and we left him with a Restoration pamphlet and commanded him that he should read it. Alex seems like a really good guy, and pretty religious. So hopefully he'll read the pamphlet and learn a little bit.

I have realized recently that while I point and laugh at some things that other churches do and believe in (metaphorically), what they do is no more weird to them than what we do is to us. It's what they know and are told, so they follow it.

I have also learned that many people do not actually even think about their religion. At home, at work, in church, their minds are always away from church. We are commanded many times to think about what we have been told, such as Christ commanded when He visited the Nephites. Being aware of religion is good, but it's not going to get you anywhere if you don't mull it over and reason it out in your minds.

That being said, if there is one thing that I'm getting good at on my mission it's using my brain to actively think about the gospel. I mean, I've taken a step back and tried to consider God not having a body, or the idea of the Trinity, or things like that, and I just can't see it. It's just too confusing and weird. And when I ask other people about it, they say, "that's why the scriptures say that nobody comprehends Him!" Okay, maybe YOU don't comprehend Him.

P1050724It's like Elder Stokes once mentioned from his studies (I think from Jesus the Christ?). The Jews, before Christ came, wanted things that were confusing and hard to be understood. So God gave them that. Nowadays, the gospel is decently clear, but people still seem obsessed with complicating the truth.

We taught a recent convert named Sandy this last week. He has been slipping into inactivity, and we have now found out that he was holding on to his old beliefs from before baptism. He used to be a Jehovah's Witness.

We decided to just start going back over the missionary lessons with Sandy to help him sort out any misunderstandings. The first point was about who God is. Sandy had a problem there. We talked back and forth for a while, and ended up talking about the resurrection. When told that everybody would be resurrected, Sandy said that that was wrong. We showed him a verse in 1 Corinthians 15 that says that "as in Adam all men die, so in Christ will all be made alive" (thank you random studies from that morning!).

Sandy claimed that that might still mean just a small group, only the elect, will be resurrected. My mouth was hanging open as I thought, "that's exactly the opposite of what the scripture says!"

That's something I'll never understand. People that blatantly disregard what the actual scripture actually says. That's one of the reasons that Bible bashing sucks, and I'm happy to say that I am participating in less and less of those.

We are going to try to help Sandy understand more about the Book of Mormon, and hopefully he will remember the way that he felt when he decided to get baptized.

Mission President came to Mahajanga on Saturday and Sunday. We had interviews with him on Saturday at his hotel room at this AWESOME hotel, and then met him for church on Sunday.

He coached our branch council, which had not been going very well before, straightening them out and making sure that everybody understood their responsibilities. That was awesome. And he did a bunch of interviews about the Melchizedek priesthood and temple recommends, which should all be good, and interviewed a couple that had had some problems in the past but is now ready for baptism. All in all, lots of interviews made for an effective trip!

We also set plans for two of the young men, Faly and Ulrich, to go on missions later this year. Ulrich almost didn't make it because he was baptized when he was 24 years old, so he won't even be able to start a mission until he's 25, but mission president said that that won't matter, as long as he enters the MTC before turning 26. So Ulrich will be able to serve a mission after all! Awesome!

So that's pretty much been our week. It sounds like Mom was pretty lucky to fly out of Oregon before the snow hit. Are you aware that that might be more snow than I saw in my Winter trimester at BYU-Idaho? In IDAHO? And Madagascar, since it was first created, has had about as many total inches of snow as Dallin H. Oaks' head has hairs? I swear, snow avoids me. But I hope it was fun.

Plan for the best week of your lives, and you just might have it!

I love you all,

- Elder Arrington

PS: David, happy birthday!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Week 8 in Mahajunga

Already nearly 2 months in Mahajunga, with great stories of missionary work coming in every new letter!  I know that not everyone get’s Michael’s humorous references—some are just part of the family culture.  And Brian Regan.

Subject:  “What if that had been poop!?”

When I type out movie quotes, I search my emails first to make sure I'm not repeating a quote. Usually I don't find a repeat of any given quote, but parts of it will show up in the search as parts of people's emails. With this particular quote, the search results came up with one email from Grandma Arrington and eight from Julie. I guess Julie gets credit for the most "what if that had been poop" referenced emails. You'd think today's politically correctness would have prepared an award for such an achievement. But alas, the recognition is reserved for those who graduate from the fourth grade to the fifth grade, or get four wisdom teeth pulled.

In other news, we managed to go on splits with branch missionaries three days this last week, and taught nine more total lessons than last week. We also got a ton of contacting done. Of course, not all of that contacting has paid off yet. One person in particular, when we called them later on, told us that they actually don't want to learn from us.

Well, that's better than wasting the missionaries' time for two months and not progressing because you secretly never wanted to learn in the first place, right?

On two of those days that we were on splits, I was with Ulrich. Ulrich, as some of you may remember from last weeks email, is a stud. He is planning to go on a mission, and decided to go out teaching with us while he is preparing.

The poor kid is having some trouble with that though, considering some of the contacting that he went through.

There was one guy in particular that was just straight up mean. We walked by his house and decided to talk to him. Right away the man said that he was Catholic, and he didn't want a part of our "white people's church".

So we tried an old tactic, asking him why there even are so many churches, instead of just one. The man responded by saying that, "you white people did that! At first there was just the Catholic church, and then you white people started making other ones!" Why does it always come back to us white people?

The man also troubled himself to explain to us that white people had brought murder and thievery to Madagascar.


We tried to bear testimony, but he just yelled over us. Ulrich and I ended up just walking away while he kept ranting.

Incidentally, he failed to give white people credit for the sweet house that he lived in, cell phones, electricity, and even for the existence of his own Catholic church, but I digress.

In short, it may not have been the best experience for Ulrich. But he's a good kid, with a strong testimony.

But enough of that. This week has just been a little crazy in general. We also met this guy named Frederick, who might have been less than one-hundred percent in the head, if you know what I'm saying, but his friend, Florent, might turn out to be good. He wants to quiet smoking, which we can help with!

There's also this kid named Vitazara, who is super cool, and about to get married to his girlfriend so that they can get baptized, but they have been out of town for the last month or so, so I haven't gotten to teach them much yet. But I will soon!

Mission President is coming to visit Mahajanga this weekend, so we are kind of busy preparing that. Changes in the branches meeting schedule, interviews with him, and the like. Good stuff.

In short, this week has been a lot of work, and very tiring, but effective. So that's good, right?

I was about to end this email, but I realized how short it is. I'll add one more story.

There was, on our walk to church, an accident, involving a pouse-pouse (the cart thing, not the Salvadoran food). We checked to make sure nobody was hurt too bad, and continued on our walk.

Then, during sacrament meeting, a member pulled me out and asked if we could give a blessing to the people that had been hurt. I guess we can... but it might be better to check if they need it first. Some Malagasies have this thought that every toothache or headache needs a priesthood blessing, so I figured we would take this one with caution.

So the lady called the "injured" people over. A mother and her son, perhaps nine years old walked over. And I sat there waiting for the injured ones to come. It turns out, it was them.

I asked them who needed the blessing. Both. What for? Bruises.

Yeah... I don't think that needs a blessing. I gave the mom and the son little candies, and sent them on their way.

After this, the original lady started saying that what I was doing is really weird, and "the missionaries in La Reunion would have blessed them..." Well then take them to La Reunion! I told her that our bodies can heal from bruises without priesthood blessings, but if one of the injured people starts dying, they can call us.

This is the same lady, by the way, who showed up late to sacrament meeting and didn't catch the actual sacrament, and then asked the branch president to let her partake of it later. And he did.

The church is just so young here that they have a lot of misunderstandings. Most of these could be solved if the people would read the manuals that they have been given, but they don't. So it's up to the missionaries (as directed by the mission president) to solve problems.

But that's the mission. You live and you learn. Life is short and then you die.

As for all of your emails, just keep sending them as you can, and don't stress out about length. I print them out and read them when there is time, so being too long or too short isn't a problem.

Have a great week everybody!

- Elder Arrington