Monday, March 31, 2014

Week 16 in Mahajanga

“The rains came down and the floods came up, and the house on the rock stood still.”  How about a little hurricane action?  And some pictures!, presumably from the new camera.

Subject:  "Ye best start believing in ghost stories, Ms. Turner. You're in one!"

So we got a call from mission president yesterday that started something like this:

Elder Marsh: "Hello?"

President: "Hello. How are you doing?"

"Good. And you?"

"I'm good. Just wanted to let you know that there's a hurricane coming your way."

"Uh... oh! Okay. That's good to know."

Selfie.Apparently it's a pretty big storm, but still decently far from us in Mahajanga. We should be fine. It's been raining something fierce the last day or two, with some pretty strong winds. But don't you worry. Elder Marsh and I are not going to let a little thing like a hurricane stop us from emailing.

Our week has been pretty good. We got some good member help, which made us happy. Some of the members here are super diligent, so we like having them with us.

Ulrich, for instance, gave us a referal this week (his second one since getting baptized in December). The kid's name is Sandratra. He actually learns in our English class, but had a couple questions about the gospel and asked Ulrich. Ulrich directed Sandratra to us, and just like that he has become a progressing investigator, with a few members of his family on their way to follow suit. They are a very nice family, and we'll be going back to teach them this Tuesday. More to come.

Edmond and Nirine, investigators whom some of you might remember, are still going well. Nirine is in Tana, apparently pretty sick but getting better, but we stopped by Edmond this week. His daughter and her friends have been coming to church for a month or so, but Edmond has been bouncing between here and Tana and hasn't had time, until yesterday. He came to church, and had a pretty good time. Side note about his daughter and her friends: they've only been present for a few lessons, but they started coming to church and just haven't stopped. Now they come to youth activities and even came to clean the church on Saturday. I think that at least a part of that comes from the fact that they have friends here, so they enjoy coming. Why can't the older members be that good at helping new people join?

DSCF0283Most of the older members here in Mahajanga just go to church and go home. They aren't very social. However, there is one sister, named Sr. Vero, who is VERY good at welcoming new people. We had this investigator come to church, Pathy and her son and daughter, and we were afraid that nobody would talk to them. But as soon as sacrament meeting ended, Sr. Vero grabbed and went with Pathy to the next meeting, and Vero's daughter carted the kids off to their classes. Excellent.

By the way, we had figured that Pathy wouldn't even come to church yesterday because of the rain, but she did! It looks like she and her family are going to progress very quickly. She's not married, but as long as she stays on the right path, she can repent later.

Elder Marsh and I spent some time contacting, but in a way that was pretty new to me. We found a bunch of former investigators in the area book, who were written down as being awesome, but then the records stopped. The people stopped learning for some reason, but we have no idea why. It just wasn't written down. So we called them up to see if they are still interested in learning. And out of fourteen people that we called, three of them set up appointments then and there, five or so couldn't give a time right then but would later on, and the rest didn't answer. NOBODY said that they just didn't want to learn. So we now might have a bunch of "new" investigators, and we didn't have to knock a single door!

I've been doing pretty well here in Mahajanga. It's been very hot for the last while, but with this rain and wind we've been pretty cold. I'm actually shivering. My shoes are also full of water, but I'll survive. Actually, all of my three pairs of shoes are still water-proof, but that doesn't do much good when you have to walk through puddles deeper than your ankles. But still. We made a good investment in buying these shoes.

DSCF0277We had an opportunity to serve this week. Fr Gaetan, Fr Gerald (recently returned missionary), and their mom are moving to Tana for work, so we helped them pack some things in a truck to be driven down there. That was pretty bittersweet. Helping them is good, but they were really good members, serving in tons of responsibilities, including: branch family history specialist, young mens president, institute teacher, temple prep class teacher, and relief society president. We are sad to see them go.

However, another family moved INTO Mahajanga at exactly the same time. Hery, along with his wife and two kids, has been a member for about a year, and just got the Melchizedek priesthood. They are super nice, and should be a great addition to our troops here.

For the last couple weeks, we had been getting text messages, with scriptures written on them. The scriptures were always things like, "soon we shall meet again," or "I shall rise up to meet you." And we had no idea who was sending them, or why. It turns out, it had been Hery this whole time! That guy.

DSCF0289Last Saturday we got a call from this girl, a member in Tamatave. She said she would just text us her message and hung up quickly. Her messages started coming in, telling us that she would tell a secret, and not even the missionary's companion could know. Elder Marsh, who had the phone at the time, laughed as he read it out loud to me. "That's just not going to happen," he said.

Finally the lady got to the point, "do you like Malagasy girls?"

"OH NO!" My companion texted back, "we're not going to talk about that. If you have a message, just say it." What a stud.

It turns out that the lady had a referal for us, that she would bring to church the next day. But they never came. Oh well.

Still, Elder Marsh was just a boss in how he handled it. He explained to me that he has been aware of too many people that kept secrets, and ended up making huge mistakes afterward. After all the texting was done Elder Marsh just laughed one more time, "you're not getting me that easily, Satan."

So there you go. My companion is awesome, we've had some people coming to church this week, and life in general has been pretty good, in spite of the afore mentioned hurricane.

Thank you for your emails, and know that I love you all!

- Elder Arrington

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week 15 in Mahajanga

On the upside, missionary work is making good progress!  On the down side, Michael’s camera got taken….

Subject:  "Now when you go around loving everybody, you'll smell so sweet!"

The weeks really are just flying by. Part of that might be because I get so distracted laughing at Elder Marsh freaking out about going home, since he now has three weeks total left of his mission.

He's actually doing a great job of not getting trunky, but it still reaches him when he reads emails. But Elder Marsh does a great job of getting focused again right after that, so it's all good.

The real problem with our work this last week started on Thursday, when my companion got pretty sick, and that lasted through Saturday night. The poor guy had to stay pretty near a bathroom most of those three days, so we didn't get to work as much as we normally would.

That being said, we still caught more total lessons this week than we have had since I came to Mahajanga (or even back in Sabotsy Namehana, for that matter).

One of my favorite people that we are teaching now is named Albert and Joseline. They and their family are super nice and diligent. My companion and I decided to really focus on getting to know them on our first meet up with them, rather than just quickly introducing ourselves and then jumping right into teaching them. And it turned out that getting to know people can get you a long way!

They have enjoyed us coming over to their house much more than other investigators might, and the lessons are much more fun and can progress much better, since we are more like friends now, rather than random white dudes talking about Jesus.

That's awesome too, because plenty of other white people do that, so we try to stick out and do things different than other preachers. Becoming friends, and encouraging them to get an answer to prayer, rather than trying to Bible-proof everything. So we're basically trying to do a better job of applying the Holy Ghost in our lessons. And it's working out pretty well.

Another favorite that I've had is this new guy named Siverlon. He's just been really diligent, and even when we met him on the street for the first time he was full of questions. Even better, he listens to our answers to his questions. Could life get any better?

So the missionaries here in Mahajanga teach a Preach My Gospel class. In the last class we were explaining about effective questions, and I mentioned that one example of a less effective question would be, "who is God?" because people will always just answer that according to their current faith, which gets you nowhere.

Then I remembered that that's exactly how my companion (most of my companions, actually) starts every first meeting, and I just threw out that it's wrong in front of everybody. Granted, nobody else knew that, but I think he heard it.

A lot of missionaries here seem to do that, and I just don't get it. They ask somebody what they know about God, the person answers according to their faith, and then the missionaries have to shut down their faith in what other churches say. And usually they do that with a bunch of Bible scriptures, which is just a prelude to extended Bible bashing. So we don't like that.

In other news, I got robbed this week. I was getting on a bus and talking on the phone, setting up an appointment with an investigator, and people were just pushing and shoving around, and in all the hustle and bustle, I successfully set up the lesson and squeezed into the bus. Right after that I checked my goods, making sure I had everything. I didn't.

My camera was gone. Right out of my pouch. By the time I realized it was gone, there was nothing I could do. So that wasn't the highlight of my week.

On the bright side, only a few pictures were actually lost. Almost everything was backed up, and Elder Marsh had taken similar pictures of just about everything that I lost. So the only real loss is the camera itself.

And today we went out and bought a new camera. Nothing too fancy, but it should hold up until the end of my mission. I'll just have to keep it more secure than I did the other one.

Other than that, this week has been pretty good. Lots of good teaching appointments, lots of diligent investigators, and lots of success.

Have a great week everybody!

- Elder Arrington

PS: Sorry, no pictures this week :P

Monday, March 17, 2014

Week 14 in Mahajunga–or is it Mahajanga? or Majunga?

I Googled it.  According to Wikipedia, Mahajanga is the correct spelling, and that the correct French spelling drops the ‘h’ and uses the ‘u’ instead of the ‘a’.  Official:  Mahajanga.  French spelling: Majunga.  Michael is using the correct spelling which means this blog has apparently been incorrect all this time!

Michael’s experience with missionary work continues to strengthen.  His testimony is clearly growing.  And he’s having fun, too!  As a side note, his brother David (formerly a participant in this very blog) got engaged last Friday, hence the comments.

Subject:  "Oh, not you Roxanne! I was just yelling at my mother's urn."

Just a usual week, nothing super new or grand or surprising...

And then I open an email from dad to see a picture of David on one knee? Holding a ring? In front of a chick? How did that happen?

So my brother is officially engaged now. That's a weird feeling. But way to go David. Good job.

(PS: I've heard that this is "Facebook legit", so I guessed there would be no harm in me commenting on it.)

But all of you probably already knew that days ago.

P1070174As for me, life has been much of the same. Teaching, preaching, and all that good stuff. Elder Marsh and I have also torn up Mahajanga this last week with our contacting efforts, and it's starting to pay off. Maybe ten percent of the people that we contacted are going to progress, but that's still some progress. Progress is good.

Mahajanga is actually kicking up a gear in several different areas. We found a less active family that the branch had been contacting for a while, and visited them. Jean Baptiste and his wife came to church yesterday. They left early, but it's a start. We'll keep visiting them, and try to help the branch do a good job of accepting them back into activity.

Sandy, who some of you may remember to be a less active recent convert, previously Jehovah's Witness. We've been visiting him, and it seems that he is still searching for the truth, and even stopped by institute class recently. As long as he continues that search, he should find the truth. We'll be focusing on the Book of Mormon and prayer with him.

P1070095Which is exactly what we did with Justin. Justin is that super diligent guy. He reads everything we can throw at him (so far, most of the Book of Mormon, a priesthood ordinances manual, and now he's tearing through Gospel Principles, all in less than a month), but we were afraid for a while that he would end up as a "facts convert".

With every principle that we taught Justin would ask for scriptures in the Bible to prove it, always asking for proof. We focused a bunch on the Book of Mormon and prayer, explaining that IF the Book of Mormon is true THEN everything that we taught him is also true. Two lessons with Justin ago we found out why this is the right way to teach.

Justin straight up bore testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. He said that he feels happier when he reads it, studies the books P1070161that we've given him, and when he learns from us missionaries. Even when he just talks to us outside of our lessons, he feels that there is something different about us. Because of this, Justin has been asking us about how he can apply this new faith that he has, which is perfect. We were planning to baptize him on April 12th, but he just recently left of town and won't be back until Juin, [Juin: French word for June] probably after I leave Mahajanga (dang it!). But we'll make sure the missionaries later on dunk him. Justin is an awesome person.

There's this new guy that we found named Tsadidy. He comes from Toliara, and has the coolest accent ever. It's actually kind of hard for us to communicate with him sometimes, since he mainly speaks Vezo (a dialect from Toliara), which is fairly different from Merina (the official dialect of Malagasy that every person in Madagascar is supposed to know). We're trying to learn a little bit of Vezo so that we can communicate clearly with Tsadidy, but honestly, there's a lot to learn and almost nothing to learn it from (such as books).

Fortunately, we've been blessed with one very diligent recent convert, Ulrich, who actually comes from Toliara, and so is able to clarify any misunderstandings.

P1070180Ulrich apparently speaks almost all of the Malagasy dialects (there's somewhere around 20) as well as French, and is getting pretty darn good at English. He's a stud.

But back to Tsadidy. My companion has this thing where he'll always ask a new investigator, on the first visit, who God is to them. What they understand about Him, things like that. Tsadidy just said, "I don't know that." We asked about Jesus Christ. Same answer. So we are given pretty much a blank religious slate to work with. We'll see where this goes.

One last note about Vezo people is that they are not very well educated. Tsadidy is huge (like, the size of Bane from that one movie), but he has the mind and innocence of a child. He's a way nice guy, and we love teaching him.

Pascal, Jean and Clementine are all continuing on the recent converts path very well. No signs of them going inactive any time soon.

P1070092Smooth subject transition.

While toiling out in the hot sun, Elder Marsh found time to grab a goat and pretend to ride it. Elder Marsh, aside from being tall beyond reason, used to do some pretty serious bull riding before his mission.

The poor little goat would never have stood a chance.

For our P-day today we went to the beach with a bunch of the young men from the branch. We had brought some meat for a reason, and the young men got a fire going, and then cooked and ate the meat. Apparently it tasted less than stellar?

I had already been to that beach before, but it was new for Elder Marsh. And I got a picture of Ulrich jumping over me, so that was a day well spent.

P1070120And I threw in a picture of me with Justin. My companion was smart enough to suggest that we take pictures a couple lessons ago, just in case Justin had to leave suddenly. And he did.

That's pretty much all I can say about this week. Stay happy everybody!

I love you all!

- Elder Arrington

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week 13 in Mahajunga

Things moving forward in Mahajunga!  Almost as an afterthought, we have baptisms!

Subject:  "So. What's with the WHEEL??"

I have now gotten my fifth American companion (if you include the MTC).

P1060973Elder Marsh is about as American bred as they come, wears cowboy boots around the house and talks with this super redneck accent. It's awesome.

Honestly though, I'm finding it hard to communicate with him, because I can never remember how to say things in English. So I'll get his attention and say something like, "hey, could you pass me that...what is that called........ that one thing........" and I just leave him hanging there since I can't remember the English word for pen or something. I'm sure he's been enjoying that.

So we've been rocking things up here in Mahajanga. He also refuses to let anything in our house work less than perfectly, so we'll be spending most of today tearing things apart in efforts to fix them (the washer, the sink, and basically painting the house with bleach. Gotta keep these things clean!)

And that's how he chooses to spend the first of his last five P-days.
Which reminds me, Dad asked about the odds of there being another transfer coming my way soon. Elder Marsh will be going home at the next transfer, so I'm guaranteed a new companion. There's also the possibility of Mahajanga getting white-washed, but we'll see how that all works out in a couple weeks.

P1070027Elder Marsh has also been helping us straighten out the branch, particularly in their meetings. They've had some rather ineffective (useless) branch council meetings, but this last one was really good. The branch president followed the agenda that was made for him, and some decisions and assignments got made. It was by no means perfect, but much improved.

So that's progress!

We also had thirteen investigators at church yesterday, including Edmond and his family (his wife Nirine is in Tana, but everyone else came). Edmond, the Croc Hunter, has been a really good investigator, pretty diligent in reading, and finally came to church for the first time. That sets a clear horizon for their baptism on April 12!

Justin also came to sacrament meeting, on time, but had to leave right after that to help his wife with some work. He keeps begging us for a Doctrine and Covenants, but we simply don't have any to give him. We tried to send some up with Elder Marsh, but that didn't happen because of some communication error. No biggy. Until then we are trying to stuff Justin's appetite for reading with church manuals and whatever books we have just lying around the church building, but he's reading way too fast. But I guess that's the kind of problem that you would want, so I'm not complaining!

P1070031Frank also said he would come to church, but then didn't. Not sure why.

We also had three newly baptized recent converts at church today, that were dunked the day before. I baptized Jean Doe (that's seriously his full name.), Elder Marsh baptized Clementine, and Ravo baptized his friend, Pascal. That's what it's all about!

By the way, check out how ghetto our baptismal font is. Pretty much the coolest thing ever.

We've been drop talking a lot of people that weren't progressing in an effort to look for more diligent investigators. My companion has suggested that we look for more part member families with the free time, so we will be doing that this week. There are lots of families here in Mahajanga where just one of the sons is a member, or a daughter, or a wife, so we'll try to get the rest of the family to recognize the truth. Most of them have learned before and chose to not get baptized, but saving their souls is worth another try.

We've finally been able to split our English class into two sections, for the people that are already pretty good and those that are not. Although honestly, even the lower level class people were pretty good. I taught the lower level, which basically consisted of our branch missionaries. We are going to really try to get them good at English, because mission president wants to prepare more Malagasies to serve in English speaking missions. So it would help if they already speak a bit before they get air-dropped in South Louisiana or something, with no translator.

I've been doing pretty well, and I think that my toe is doing better. I just remembered about when I went to the hospital for the second time to get a bandage replaced. I was talking to the old lady doctor while she cleaned up the wound, impressing her with my Malagasy skills, when some other person walked by the window and said to the doctor, "oh look, you got a white guy." She yelled back, "watch it girl, that's my son you talkin' about!"

And I was like, "what's up black mama!"

So I officially have a Malagasy mama now. Cool!

There's a less active that we had worked with for a while named Mevasoa. Mevasoa said that the only reason he isn't coming to church is that he has rheumatism, and can't sit down for a long time. We thought about that and told him that if he comes he can stay off to the side, and stand up and walk outside when he needs to. Mevasoa accepted, and actually came to church yesterday!

His wife on the other hand, a nonmember, did not come. I talked to her for a while, asking why she wouldn't come to church or learn from missionaries anymore, and she said that she had prayed and gotten an answer that she should stay in her current church (some protestant branch). So there you go.

Mevasoa is still way diligent, and preparing to go to the temple. Good guy.

That's pretty much been our week. With another bright one straight ahead!

Until next week!

- Elder Arrington

Monday, March 3, 2014

Week 12 in Mahajunga

A new month and a new planner!  The weeks continue to roll on and we’re now just outside of 5 months remaining.  This week’s news?  Michael is getting a new companion, who happens to be freshly released from being an assistant to the President.  Interesting choice.  And this week’s letter comes with a genuine Malagasy recipe!

Subject:  "It's a highly efficient language. You can fit a whole book on a napkin!"

Today signifies the bright new beginning of a new planner! How exciting. That planner represents the first of my last three or four planners EVER. That's weird. It also means that we just got transfer news yesterday.

As I may have mentioned before, there are three areas in Madagascar that are considered the "best areas". Mahajanga, Fort Dauphin, and Toliara. Once a missionary goes to one of those, he is off limits for going to another. It's kind of the unspoken rule. However, transfers came in, and guess who is moving from Mahajanga to Fort Dauphin? MY COMPANION.

P1050849The lucky little punk is bouncing down there, probably for the next six months (his mission ends at the same time as mine). He should have an awesome time.

I, on the other hand, am staying in the other "best area", Mahajanga. My new companion is to be Elder Marsh, who will be leaving the throne of AP to end his mission in Mahajanga. It's kind of weird to think that this companion actually may have had some say in picking me as his next companion. I guess that's one of those, "a second to decide, a lifetime to regret" kind of decisions.

Just kidding. I've met Elder Marsh before and heard a little bit about him, and we should have an awesome time. He's like a seven foot tall redneck. What could be better than that?

P1050862But enough about transfers. Our teaching this week has been going pretty well, with a couple people in particular.

Some of you may remember Frank from last week. He is still progressing well, reading from the Book of Mormon, but he doesn't like to pray he doesn't like to pray when we are there. I don't get that. Especially since he's prayed before, following the instructions in the pamphlets perfectly. But now he doesn't want to. But we'll get him.

Frank had also suggested that he might come to church yesterday, but didn't. That made us pretty sad. But that's life. We might send a member to hunt him down this next week.

Justin is still doing pretty well, and arguing less. Honestly, most of his arguments are pretty reasonable, like when he asked about God having a body when John 4:24 says that he is a spirit. We answered that as well as we could, and then told him that it, once again, hinges on the Book of Mormon. I probably say that like four times every time we teach him.

P1050870Justin was supposed to come to church this week, but didn't. I'm sure he has a good reason, especially since he didn't even hesitate to come the first time. But still. Come to church.

While those investigators didn't come to church, many others did. Sixteen others, to be exact. Much of that comes from all the primary kids that we teach, who are officially counted as investigators, but there were a few others as well.

Jean and Clementine, for example, came. Which is really good since they'll be getting baptized this Saturday. I haven't talked about them much. Jean used to be Muslim and wasn't that interested in the church until recently, although Clementine has been trying to get baptized for a year or so. Her only problem was not being officially married. But now that's all out of the way, Jean is on fire and doing his best to be like Jesus, so that's that.

P1050889A young man named Pascall will also be getting baptized this Saturday, so that's good. He was almost dunked before, but was drinking coffee. He has now passed the roadblock, and in the clear.

We teach this lady named Mémé, who I call Mad Madam Mim. She also has been trying to get baptized for a while but can't because her marriage isn't finished. Yesterday she asked us why unmarried "husbands and wives" can't get baptized but unmarried people that date can. We explained, and she understood. Mémé has a great sense of humor, and laughs a lot. She would be a good member.

I was thinking about whining for a few paragraphs about how ineffective our branch councils are (and I do in letters to mission president), but suffice it to say that it took an 18 year old young men's leader to tell all the older people, including the branch president, "you are all just complaining about the problem and wasting all our time. Just start look for solutions." I couldn't have said it better myself. That being said, the leaders still managed to end the hour long branch council with almost nothing to show for it.

P1050914That being said, there are a couple of good members here. Gaetan, the 18 year old that spoke up in branch council, is a good one. He is also the branch Family History consultant, and just a diligent guy. His brother, Gerard, is also super good. Gerard just got back from his own mission and is way solid as a leader and in his efforts to straighten out things in the branch that are not okay. Both of those brothers are really good at English, by the way.

The problem is that both Gaetan and Gerard will be moving soon, due to their mother's work. She is also a good member, but hasn't been coming to church because of her job. She has an actual job working at a grocery store, so the family's income is pretty solid, but she should come to church.

On that note, just coming to church does not define a good member. On our way to church yesterday Elder Rakotonjanahary and I bumped into a member lady walking in the opposite direction. We asked her where she was going and her response was, "oh don't worry. I'm just going to stop by the market really quick and I'll be at the church soon." And I was like, "oh good. Breaking the Sabbath ON YOUR WAY TO CHURCH. That's a new one."

P1050915The members just don't understand a lot of things about the Sabbath day and the way the church runs. But enough of that. Things will improve.

President has also suggested that my new companion, Elder Marsh, should be a good help in kicking the branch council and leaders up a step. I'm sure he'll be great.

That pretty much concludes what I have to say this week. I hope you are all enjoying life in America. It has been mentioned that people here look pretty poor. Living and working with them kind of makes you more grateful for the "necessities" that you used to have. Things like a bed for each individual, couches, a kitchen table. A kitchen. But the people make do with what they have.

I love you all!

- Elder Arrington

PS: I've been watching some of the people that pull pouse-pouses for a living. I'm convinced that those guys would have been fantastic pioneers, because can they run all day pulling their load like a handcart, and half the time they aren't even winded when they get to their destination. The only problem is that their pioneer wagon would be full of straight up RICE. The average Malagasy eats somewhere around two-thirds to a full pound of rice each day (measured before it is cooked). Can you imagine carrying that bucket of all your belongings (15 lbs?) AND a hundred pounds or so of rice PER PERSON?

PPS: I had Elder Rakotonjanahary teach my how to make some Malagasy rice and laoka, and I realized that the laoka that we made was basically chili. So if anybody wants to try a Malagasy dinner, here's a quick recipe:

- Cook a bunch of rice.
- Microwave some chili.
- Mix the two and enjoy!

PPPS: Lindsay, thanks for the email! It's good to know you're still alive!