Monday, January 31, 2011

. . .and definitely poisonous.

January 31, 2011
Tangalan, Aklan, Panay Island
Elders Waggoner and Pipit
First, to answer some questions from emails and letters that I have received:   I am learning Aklanon, which has a very different vocabulary from Tagalog, but, as far as I can tell, similar sentence structure.  Only Elder Pipit and I live in our apartment, and we speak in English about 90 percent of the time.  We should not speak English that much, so that's something we need to improve.  Elder Pipit is basically an American.  (He’s Filipino, but speaks English well.)  I see Elder Lowry every three weeks or so.  I saw him last Wednesday when we had interviews in Kalibo.  We see rats like every other day.  Usually they’re just scurrying away from us.  They live in our walls and stuff, but it's ok.  It's not the rats I'm concerned about- they are relatives of splinter.  I'm more concerned with Shredder.

I don't really have culture shock - I don't think.  I was never helpless or anything.  I do have “Wow, this is kind of annoying” shock, but never culture shock.   

I'm kind of bummed about my Jill Andres CD being stolen because it was signed, but I'll get another one from her when I return.  (Some items were stolen from out car last week, including a few of Nate’s music CD’s.)  I'm more bummed out about Dad's Butterfinger bar, though.  That's rough.

Please send my regards to Stevie.  (Nate’s cousin, who returned from a mission to Uruguay and lives in Salt Lake.)  I hope he's adjusting well.  I bet he's cold.

Ok, so on to the week.   It was long.  I was sick for a good part of it.  In fact, I still have a stuffy nose.  It's ok, though.  Elder Pipit says that it's from the weather, and so does every other Filipino we run into, but I tend to think it's from germs.  I shake a lot of people's hands.  I do use the hand sanitizer, though.  We're cool, so don't worry.  Elder Pipit insisted we not work for two days this week because I was sick.  I wanted to work.  I hate not working.  I really didn't feel like a missionary for those two days.  It sucks to not feel like a missionary and to still be one.   

Last Monday, Elder Light and I went to get haircuts.  A gay guy runs the hair salon and the gay community hangs out there.  We contacted one of them and invited him to church last Monday.  So he came!  He came halfway through Sunday School.  We saw walking towards the church, and Elder Pipit hit me and told me to go greet him.  "Your investigator is here!"  I went to greet him and invite him in.  He came to church completely gayed out.  He was quite a site for our bickering ward, but Elder Pipit made sure everyone greeted him, and I think he had a good time.  We're going to teach him. He even participated in the classes.  He's super interested.  He wears some ridiculous stuff, though.  Later yesterday afternoon when we went to some members houses, they all asked about him.  “Why was he at church?”  My gosh, because he needs salvation too!  People don't understand that church is for sinners.

This week we had two really giant spiders, the biggest I have ever seen.  Elder Pipit didn't want me to kill the first one, but I did.  It was in the bathroom, and definitely poisonous.  I was kind of freaked out about it.  Half like "Holy crap, this thing is huge! that's the biggest spider ever! You’ve got to check this out!" and then half "Holy crap, I sit there for some periods of time, I don't want to get bitten while on the toilet!  I'm going to kill it."  I used about half of a can of baygon.  When I was on splits with Elder Madayag, I found another one about the same size, and used the other half of the can on that one.

We have a Jehovah's Witness investigator.  He's tough.  He's actually pretty ridiculous.  I have been reading his book "What does the bible really teach?"  Oh man, it is not gratifying to read.  Honestly, I don't want to teach this guy.  Tons of people want to hear our message, but Elder Pipit wants to because, if converted, he will be a leader in the ward.  He's really smart, but man, he's stubborn.  We decided to teach him the plan of salvation, and our lesson lasted two and a half hours!  No joke!  It was quite an ordeal.  He stresses me out, but I guess if we teach the gay guy we have to teach the Jehovah's Witness too.  To balance out reading his book o' crap, I finished Our Heritage and read a lot of Jesus the Christ.  Both are great books.  I was sick so that I had the time.

I was paired up with Elder Light's companion, Elder Madayag, for a day.  Elder light was with my companion.  Elder Madayag and I were in my area.  It was ok, but he kind of bothered me.  He raided our fridge and stole our teaching pamphlets.  He also would walk in front of me even though I was the one who knew where we were going.  Then he'd stop and I just walked past him, then he'd hurry up and get in front of me again.  It was annoying to walk with someone like that the whole day.  At one point he pretty much pushed me out of the way on a narrow foot bridge to get past, and I almost pushed him into the river when.  Then the next day we waited for Elder Pipit and Elder Light to return to Tangalan.  It was 1 o'clock and we hadn't heard from them and they weren't there.  We borrowed the landlord's cell phone and called Elder Pipit.  He had told Elder Madayag that we were supposed to go to Numancia, and Elder Madayag had forgotten.  We got to Numancia around 3:30, did out interviews/evaluations, then returned to Tangalan at 4:30.  At 5:00 we had an interview with the branch president, but that didn't end up happening.  We wasted an entire day.  I only did three days of missionary work this week.  It was rough.

We have an investigator Ailyn who invited her friend to sit in on the discussions.  It was ok, but her friend is only listening because I'm “a cute American.”  Ailyn teased her friend in front of us about me.  She said things in Aklanon like "Hey, Handsome is asking you to read."  It's kind of funny, but actually frustrating.  I'm not in the girl department right now.  We will teach her if she comes to church - that's how we'll know if she really wants to hear us.  But really she just has a crush on us.

We had interviews with President this week.  They went well.  It wasn't too personal.  Once again, he just thanked us for all we were doing.  It was cool though because I got to hang with Elder Lowry for a bit.

Besides our new gay investigator, we had another come to church!  He's Brother Ludin.  He reminds me of a Levon Helm.  He's so cool.  He came to church in a sweet flannel shirt and blue jeans and tan leather shoes.  It only further proved he's the Filipino Levon Helm.  We had been trying to get him to come to church for a long time, so this was really nice.  He had a good time too.  Later in the day we committed him and his wife to baptism!  He reminds me of Levon Helm because of how he acts during our discussions.  Like in that movie "The Last Waltz" when they interview the members of The Band and Levon sits low in his chair and nods his head and grins.  He's one of my favorite investigators, and now he has a baptism date.  I think we have some Word of Wisdom stuff to discuss though.

When our interview with our Branch President fell through we just played basketball.  I am terrible by the way.  Even 5'4 Filipinos cream me.  I felt ashamed at my height and my inability to play.

I have had some casualties: my shoes, my backpack, and my umbrella.  I left my umbrella on a jeepney, but I have already bought a new one.  My shoes' soles have broken and now the jell pack foot support is everywhere and sliding around.  I'll try to get a new inside sole support thing, or just get new shoes.  I kind of need new shoes because we take our shoes off at every investigators house, even if it's just a bamboo floor.

It doesn't matter if it's a bamboo floor, or even a concrete floor.  People here try to be as clean as possible.  They will sweep the heck out of it.  If they were in America, Filipinos would be the cleanest people ever.  A lot of people just don't have the opportunity to live outside of a trashy/unsanitary environment.

My backpack is fraying at almost all connections.  I'll probably buy a new one soon.  You might see that charge come through today.

I love you all so much.  I wish you all the best.  Sorry that this week’s email is kind of lame, this week has been kind of lame.

One thing I've noticed is that missionaries don't change.  They are the same person, but they just learn how to work hard and rely on the spirit.  Some people think they changed, but really they are the same person.  What I'm really trying to say is that Elf is still funny, I still like rock n' roll, I still would rather stand on my head for a day then get a haircut, but I'm just a little better and working hard and being super nice to everyone - even if they point out my acne every time I see them.

Filipinos ask me what kind of soap I use on my face and ask me why I have pimples. That's just one of those things you’ve got to brush off.  It's funny now.  If it wasn't funny, it would be annoying, so I've made sure it's funny.

Throughout the day, I write words I don't know in my pocket book and then ask them to investigators and members later in the day.  It makes good conversation.  I can't really hold a real conversation in Aklanon, but I can ask about words for thirty minutes straight.  They quiz me too.  It's really nice.  They really want to help because they really love the missionaries here.

I'm well.  I’m happy to be better, and happy to work hard this week.  I love you all.  I miss you.  Thanks for the letters.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Good one, Grandpa, you ate it again.

January 24, 2011
Tangalan, Aklan Province, Panay Island

What a week, guys.  The Philippines is crazy.  Is it possible to explain that to you?  I'm on the other fetching side of the world!  It's wild.

A couple of night ago, I woke up to a very strange sound.  It sounded like a demented baby crying.  It was like a half growl, half cry.  It would get louder and softer.  I had no idea what the heck the sound was.  I wasn't scared, but seriously, what the heck?!  I realized that Elder Pipit was awake, so I asked him, "Elder, what the heck is that?"  He said "I think it's cats."  Once he said that, I recognized it was two cats in a fight.  It sounded crazy.  They were trying to kill each other.  It was so loud!  The servant lady eventually got up and dumped water on them.  That was good.

I am not quite caught up on laundry.  I got really far behind on it for a while.  We did laundry three times this week.  Doing it is a long process, but I bet I'll be buff by the end of two years of washing by hand.  We listen to Mormon Tab as we wash.  We open up the windows of a classroom in the church and turn on the hymns CD.  I'm trying to sing harmony to it as we wash.

We do a lot of work.  We found 16 new investigators this week!  16!  We taught something like twenty lessons!  We got four new families from a single lady in the ward.  Our three baptismal committed investigators fell through, or at least for the original date.  One won't get baptized because the ward was mean to his sister.  That's really too bad.  We work with the ward.  We visit them and teach them about charity and love and stuff.  I was told that teaching the gospel will change behavior faster than talking about behavior will change behavior.  But man, it's just not sticking.  I love my area, though.  I love the scenery.  It's so pretty.  It's so cool and fitting for me.  I get to hike!  ALL DAY!!

I've been working hard at befriending the members.  Elder Pipit thinks he'll get transferred, so I have really got to get to know the members.  Since I can't speak their language, it's kind of rough.  I ask them about their family and their work.  I am smiling more now, because if I don't, people will ask me “what’s wrong?”  I'm so tired of getting asked that that I just smile.

I gave yet another talk in church.  I shared Alma 36 as the steps of repentance.  I don't think anyone understood me.  Only one person talked to me about it afterwards and that was to tell me I should have just read in English.

Elder Light gave me a hammock for my birthday.  It's so sweet.  Elder Pipit is jealous.  At first it was kind of scary because the only place I could hang it was kind of up high.  It'll hold, and it's so good.  I write in my journal from it.  It's impossible to be bummed out when you’re in a hammock.  Impossible.

I've been getting along really well with Elder Pipit.  He's really laid back.  I've been teaching him American slang, such as "you ate it".  The other day when I went across a piece of wood acting like a bridge over the muddy rice irrigation, the bored snapped and I fell face forward into mud.  His remarks were "Good one, Grandpa, you ate it again."  He calls me Grandpa because of my "old man shoes" and my "old man music."  It's all in good fun.

The other day we taught a new family for the first time, way back in the bukid.  They gave us some root fruit stuff.  It looks like a potato and taste like a rotten macadamia nut.  We ate it to be nice, and as we left they offered me more, so we took one for the road. Later that night, Elder Pipit threw his at me super hard.  Earlier in the day, he had taught me the word for "ouch"- the word is "agay!"  So he threw that fruit at me and I was like "What the heck, Elder!" and then he said "You're supposed to say agay when you get hurt."  I said “Agay” and threw it back at him.  We threw it at each other for about two more nights until he got me in the face and I finally decided to end the feud and throw it out.

When an investigator doesn't pull through for a lesson or appointment, we call it getting punted.  We got punted like four times in a row last Wednesday.  It was crazy.  It was okay, though, because we had good lessons later in the day.

Last Monday (Jan 17) we celebrated my birthday with the Sisters.  Elder Pipit's birthday was the fourth, and mine was the next day (Tuesday, the 18th) and another sister’s was in the last part of December.  So, we had birthday cake with all of our names on it.  It was a big cake and the Sisters cut me a HUGE piece.  They made me eat it all.  It was a lot of fun, but I had trouble getting up afterwards.  We joked about not eating again for the rest of the week and stuff like that.  It took like 45 minutes to finish the piece of cake they gave me.  They sent us home with the leftovers of the cake, and we just gave the leftovers away.  We couldn't do it, we couldn't eat anymore.  We didn't even eat dinner later that night.

We had a good experience with one of our investigators that had been an investigator for a long time.  We had just been reading the Book of Mormon with her because she wouldn't read it on her own.  We started in Third Nephi 11 and just read a chapter each visit.  Elder Pipit let me lead discussions with her.  We got done reading chapter 12 and we asked her what she thought about the chapter.  She said "I think that I need to get baptized."  We hadn't talked about baptism with her!  We never got the chance because she wouldn't read or pray.  The Book of Mormon did all the work for us.  She felt the spirit of the Book of Mormon and bam!  She hasn't set a date because she's going to work in Manila for a while, but yeah!  Heck yeah!

It's really hot.

In one of our lessons, the mother started breastfeeding out of the blue.  That was strange.  I focused really hard on the lesson.  At first I was thinking “What the heck is she doing?”  But then i realized.  I know it's no big deal around here, but i am not used to it.  Of course I didn't look.  In fact, I really only taught to the husband the rest of the lesson.  Anyways, awkward American ako.

I asked the man from whom we always buy bread for the "guapo discount."  He died laughing.  Guapo means handsome.

We taught primary again.  It was anarchy.  We taught about prophets.  We couldn't get the kids to sit still.  We couldn't.  Eventually we gave up and they ran everywhere, including out of the primary room.  Elder Pipit and I just sat in the small chairs in complete defeat after the lesson.  It was rough.

The other night we got out of a lesson at like 8:30 pm.  It's dark and we are really far from home.  There is no public transportation that late, so we usually just have to walk, but it was so late that we decided to hitch a ride.  The first two cars we see pick us up!  We couldn't believe it, but we got picked up by people driving the mission vehicles from Bacolod (on an island to the east of Nate’s mission) to Manila (across islands and seas, 250 miles north)!  What are the odds?  I don't care - Never Tell Me the Odds.   They were taking the mission vehicles to the Philippines Church Headquarters in Manila!  What are the odds we bum a ride at the time they are passing?  I think we were supposed to miss something walking home that night.

A girl in a part member family got me a t-shirt for my birthday.  It's a shirt from the Ati-Atihan festival.  (
The Ati-Atihan Festival is a feast held annually in Kalibo, about twelve miles east of Nate’s area.  It is held in January in honor of the Infant Jesus, concluding on the third Sunday.  The festival consists of tribal dance and music, accompanied by indigenous costumes and weapons, and parade along the street.) It's just a t-shirt, but it's coming from a super poor family.  It was one of the nicest gifts I have ever received.  It's like that Josh Ritter song "Best for the Best."  I will wear that shirt forever.

Things are going well.  We hung out with Sister Danner this morning.  She experienced the same things Elder Ball, Elder Light, and I did three weeks earlier.  She's happy to be here now.  It was awesome to catch up with her.  She was very thankful for your updates from my e-mails to her.  And the younger MTC districts are still using the Waggoner Worksheets!  I got a hair cut this morning, too.  It's as good as short hair can be for a hippy in denial.

I hope you are all doing well.  Since I always write on p-days, you always hear from me when I'm happiest.  It costs about 14 cents to e-mail for an hour, in US currency.  Sister Danner is three chairs over.  Elder Pipit is on my right.  It's not all fun and joy, but mostly.  We do hate getting punted and people not following through, and having to do language study.  It's all good, though.  Elder Pipit says I'm a hard working missionary.  That's good.  I love you all so much.  I hope to hear from you when I get mail again.  Everything is swell.  I hope Ben is doing well in the MTC.  I hope Trevor Tonks is ready for this crazy trip.  He's the man, though.  So Kyle Lefevre got called to Russia!  Where is he going in Russia?  

I love you so much.

Monday, January 17, 2011

This is a pretty good gig.

January 17, 2011
Tangalan, Aklan Province, Panay Island

This week was pretty crazy, as is every week here.  A lot of times I find myself just going with the flow, just doing everything I need, and forgetting "I'm in the Philippines, half a world away from home, speaking an entirely different language, teaching on a bamboo floor, and teaching people about salvation."  When I remember it, I think to myself "This is a pretty good gig."  It smashes the MTC to pieces, although I do miss warm showers - a lot.

Elders Waggoner & Ball
This week I went on splits with Elder Ball.  He's from my same batch in the MTC.  In fact, he was in my district there  We didn't always get on so well in the MTC, but something about being the only two Americans for miles made us get along well.  We collectively taught 11 lessons while our companions were in Iloilo for training.  We taught in a wide variety of places and situations, so our vocabulary also had to stretch.  The best lesson we taught was in his area though.  It was so good!  Just complete perfection!  We were walking to another person’s house through a short cut.  We were out with two teenagers from Elder Ball’s Branch (group, actually). They knew about a short cut.  We're two bago mga amerikana (Dad’s note: this translates to “new coat” and is apparently an idiom for greenhorns), so we decide to take it.   

Kids often yell out to us, especially me, "Hey Joe!"  As in GI Joe, as if all Americans are named Joe.  So, as we are walking, they call out to us, and we decide to go and give these kids high fives.  Some kids actually give really hard high fives.  So we go there and started high-fiving the kids, and a lady comes out of her house (bamboo shack).  We told her what we're doing in the Philippines, and asked if we could share a little about our church with her.  She and Elder Ball sat down on a bench, I grabbed a coconut to sit on, and the two teenagers (from the same recent convert family) stood.  We taught her about the importance of families, and the two teenagers testified about how the gospel has helped their family.  It was going very, very, well.  Then it got better.  Elder Ball asked her a question about her family.  She said she was often worried about them because she works away from them.  She says she prays for them, but wasn't really sure how to pray.  Oh man, prefect.  We taught her how to pray, bore testimonies about it, and then committed her to family prayer.  It was so good.  It's too bad she's in Elder Ball's area.  She also said the closing prayer!

In my area, the river flooded.  It had been a rainy day.  It was time to show Elder Ball the bukid (literally “field,” but contextually meaning “backwoods.”).  What a day.  We couldn't get to this one investigator’s home because the river had flooded!  We bushwhacked to find a way to get to it, but to no avail.  So then we made the muddy (putik) trek to another investigators house.  By the time we got there, our pants were so covered in mud that we couldn't actually teach, so we washed off our pants in a clean looking water pipe for irrigation.  It was at the source, so it was clean water.  It's better to be wet than muddy.  Then we hiked a ways longer and got to the house, but she wasn't there, so we hiked back.  Elder Ball was a little worried at the start of our day when I handed him a walking stick, but he was happy to have one later.  On the way back, we stopped by the place we couldn't get to at first.  The river had gone down just enough for us to get there.  We taught the lesson and walked another bajillion miles to Tangalan.

Last Monday was maybe the worst day ever.  Elder Pipit left his planner her at the internet place, and many other small things, including locking ourselves out of our apartment.  I told Elder Pipit “We can just get in through the upstairs window.”  We did, but first I wanted to find the safest way up there.  I tried a couple different places around the house.  I moved what I thought was an old piece of child’s play furniture against the wall and hopped up on it.  The plastic broke, just the top of it.  Since it looked really old and worn, and disregarded, I didn't think any more about it.  I tore the screen off of the wood and got inside.  We went to the store to get a some push pins to put the screen back on, and when we got back, the servant lady is mad as h-e-double hockey sticks.  We rent from a wealthy family, and they have some servants who live behind us.  So, the lady is super mad, and asked us about her washing machine.  I didn't know what she was talking about at first.  Yeah, that disregarded piece of junk was a washing machine, still being used, and still working.  She demanded we fix it.  I took a look at it, and only the lid was broken.  So we told her we'd get it fixed up.

The next day we had to go to Kalibo and look for a substitute lid and Elder Pipit's planner.  We found his planner.  We went to a few appliance stores and asked them.  One guy got the info from us, and was going to contact the manufacturer.  We headed back to Tangalan after wasting our entire morning.  She was sitting outside, and told us that we didn't need to go to Kalibo - we could just have given her 500 pesos.  500 pesos is like 60 bucks to a Filipino.  You have got to be kidding me!  500 pesos for a crappy piece of plastic?  Oh, come on.  I told Elder Pipit that I didn't want to pay that, but I did.  It's only like 12 bucks to us.  That is still too much for a crappy piece of plastic, but I paid it.  The lady was angry, and it affected our ability to work. 

I received your letters this last Saturday when Elder Pipit came back from Iloilo.  They were really nice.  I really enjoyed them a lot, thanks.  I don't need anything really, but let me tell you, in around four months I will.  I will need more mesquite spice for meat.  It's edible gold. 

In church we do a lot.  I try to be as social as I feel I can be - as a white guy who doesn't speak Aklanon.  I guess this amount isn't enough interaction.  The members here really watch the missionaries like hawks.  This past week, I blessed the sacrament, and I looked from the sacrament table to the congregation a couple times.  More people were looking at me than at the speaker.  Yeah, strange really.

While in Ibajay (Elder Ball’s area) I apparently didn't shake hands with a member there.  I thought that I had been really friendly while there.  So on Saturday evening, I found out that I had offended some one by not shaking their hand!  The entire Tangalan Branch knows about it already.  That is really frustrating.  The other night we were invited to eat at a lady's house at like 9:00 p.m. at night.  We still had to walk home quite a ways, so I declined as nicely as I could.  She was still offended, and told my companion to tell me proper Filipino etiquette.  She also told him to tell me to be friendlier.  It's true I have been kind of an introvert, as most people are in new situation, but people misread my introversion for something else, and now I have given the wrong impression to two areas.  Oh man, what a bummer.  I'm just not used to this kind of observation from others. 

Elder Ball had bought a guitar for like $20 US.  It was a piece of crap, but while I was in his area, I got to play it.  It was super nice to play.  We also ate at the same restaurant four times in two days.  They had the best rice there ever!  It was like 30 pesos a meal, which is cheaper than we could have cooked for ourselves, plus no dishes!

They have giant toads here!

The branch is kind of bad.  Not evil bad, but just kind of bickering bad.  It's a problem because people can't feel the spirit at church, and the ward will not retain the converts if it's like that.  We've been working with the ward really hands on to get to the root of it.  Why is there not unity?  We found out the problem goes super deep.  This morning we had an interview with the stake president.  He was glad we brought it to his attention, and it was nice for me because I got to talk to him about James Templo, the guy who is paralyzed.  He told me he'd get the paper work moving!

Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon we taught a girl named Ailyn.  She's kind of difficult, but understands Taglish.  (Dad’s note: Taglish is Tagalog and English mixed together.)  I can speak Taglish.  So we got in the entrance to her hut, and Elder Pipit hits me on my side and says "You lead."  So, I did.  It was cool to lead.  She hadn't read, and she hadn't prayed.  We expressed disappointment and moved on to opening prayer.  She didn't close her eyes for opening prayer, so I said we were going to do it again.  Since she hadn’t read, we read together for like thirty minutes.  She wouldn't follow along when she wasn't reading, so I handed her a Book of Mormon just for herself instead of passing it around.  She fiddled with her cell phone, and so I'd point to where we were in the chapter, and told her to read along.  She no doubt texted a friend to come bail her out, but when the friend came, we invited her to join.  It was cool, and by the end of the lesson I felt good about what we had done.  It was rough at first, but by the end we had had a good lesson.  She's been an investigator for a long time, but hasn't ever kept commitments.  I wasn't overly forceful, but I was very direct. 

Last night we ate dinner at a member’s house.  They made us ulam (Dad’s note: ulam is a generic word for the topping put over rice, which can be anything from vegetables to meat) and rice, plus a dessert called mango float.  It was masarap (delicious).  Mom, you should look up how to make mango float.  It was their 20-year-old daughter’s birthday.  We made sure to talk to her, but after dinner Elder Pipit talked to the lady about the ward, and the kids taught me Aklanon.  I tried to do the dishes after dinner, but the mother had a cow, so “no go” there.  It was an enjoyable evening.

Birthday Hammock
Today Elder Light bought me a hammock for my birthday!  It's the perfect gift!  I received an e-mail from Ben - that was super awesome.  I get so excited every time I get to e-mail.  I just got to read some stuff from you guys and Ben.  (It's ok to email each other since he's doing it from him mission e-mail now.)  He sounds so good.  I wish I could go to his farewell.  Jon Popp is going to the same mission as Ben!  Kyle Lefevre is going to Russia!  Oh man, that is so awesome.  I could not be more stoked.  I'm so happy for all of us.   

I had a halo-halo to celebrate my birthday.  It's like a Filipino banana split, but no banana.  Also, the sisters showed us a guitar shop.  We tried out a decent guitar, but it's like $120 US.  I don't know if it's worth it.  It's the only guitar I've seen here that's up to my standards, meaning it stays in tune and won't warp.  I didn't want to spend that kind of money.  I'll probably wait to buy a guitar until I get better at Aklanon.  It's a crazy language.  They have a completely ridiculous vowel.  I only think I can say the vowel if I have a serious cold.  The vowel sounds like death itself.  The kids laugh at me trying to do it.

I really like it here.  It's pretty it's rural.  I'm in the most rural part of my district, if not my entire zone.  Elder Ball thought he knew what bukid was until I took him to my investigators.  There's a difference between country and backwoods.  I'm in the Filipino backwoods. 

I love you so much.  I like my companion a lot.  He's super willing to help me.  I'm in really good hands.  We are a good companionship.  We cook together and stuff. He even understands sarcasm.

Much love! Peace!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

same salvation

January 10, 2011
Tangalan, Aklan Province, Panay Island

I spoke in church yesterday.  I spoke on enduring to the end.  Only one person said I did a good job.  So, yeah, I think people didn't understand what I was saying.  That's nothing new.  I have a thick American accent.  Just the way they say words is crazy.  I may know a word, but that doesn't mean I'll recognize it.  I'm getting better.  I can understand a lot of Aklanon, but cannot speak it at all.  I can hardly speak Tagalog, but I'm only trying to speak Tagalog.

The wards here really depend on missionaries.  We do more for the ward than the bishop.  It's hard because we have to balance working with members and working with investigators.  We try to bring members with us to teach, both to help us out and to strengthen the members.  It's working pretty well.  We had three investigators come to church this last Sunday.  We had invited more, but whatever.

Mosquitoes.  I swear, they are attracted to white people.  It's been crazy.  It doesn't help that we walk through basically swamps, though.  We can’t help it - the whole Philippines is a swamp!  Not really, but it is super humid, and wet, and wet, and wet.  I slept without a sheet - big mistake.  The mosquitoes attacked my feet.  Thanks Mom for the anti itching cream.  It was like I had found the holy grail when I came across it in my luggage.  It saved my life – well, at least my feet’s life.  I was about to cut them off.  It was especially bad because every step would irritate some mosquito bite on my foot.  Don't let me sound too down - it's just the worst mosquitoes ever!

Muddy pat through rice fields
Rice fields.  I love them.  You walk on tiny mud (dirt, but mostly mud) trails though the fields.  It is literally the only way to get to some investigators’ houses.  It's a giant obstacle course to teach some lessons.  Elder Pipit and I act like it's a video game.  "Check point."  "One up!"  "Oh man, I lost a life."  By the time we get to where we are teaching, our shoes are caked with mud and the bottom of are pants are mud.  It's fun though.

We have three investigators committed to baptism in one week!  I asked the first one.  I had to ask twice.  The first time I asked, a fly flew into my mouth.  The family started laughing.  Actually, my companion tells me that they we laughing at my accent, not the fly.  Then I asked again.  I am so prone to disaster here, but I just shake it off.  I'd be at home right now if I took everything so seriously.

So I'm white.  I'm the only white person for miles.  We usually take a jeepney or trike from place to place if we're in a hurry.  If not, we walk.  And we walk a lot.  We walk so much that at night I fall into bed and don't wake up until the morning.  I am out like a rock most nights.  (Dad’s note: He’s already losing his English idioms?  This seems to be a combination of “out like a light” and “sleep like a rock.”)  One night we were out kind of late and Elder Pipit told me hitch a ride.  “They like white people."  So we did.  It was awesome.  I hate to use the color of my skin to gain advantage, but it was late and we were far from our apartment.  It's totally safe, too.  People really like us here.  Kids flock to us for high-fives.

Elder Ball and Elder Kruz had a baptism this week.  They had it at our chapel because they don't have one.  It was really different from an American baptism.  This one was more like a birthday party.  First off, the missionaries were the only ones dressed up and the pictures were more important than the talks and prayers.  It was kind of wild, but hey, whatever- same salvation.

I got a little homesick last week.  It's the first in my life.  I thought I was homesick-proof, but apparently not.  I got over though when we went to work.  But every morning I have a relapse and I get homesick again.  This is because of the daily cold shower I take.  Don't get me wrong, I miss you all, but I miss home most when I have to take a cold shower.  It's a hard and shivery process.  I also miss home when I have to wash my own laundry.  I've done it twice now, and it takes about 3 and half hours to do.  After that, it takes maybe two days to dry because of how humid it is here.  It’s crazy how much of a Filipino’s life is spent just getting by - cooking, working in fields, and washing clothes.  People really work hard here, and labor with their hands.  I really admire them.


For breakfast, bread and peanut butter

For lunch, chicken and rice.

For dinner, pancit canton and fruit

We’ve eaten this for about ten days now.  I cook the chicken, and Elder Pipit showed me how to make rice.  We equally do the food.  Elder Pipit likes that because other new Elders aren't doing squat for their trainers.

The other day we were walking somewhere (which we do about 60 percent of our day) and a guy on a moped, with a girl on the back, pulled over and started talking loudly to me.  He yelled "Hey Utah Boy!"  He asked me how I liked the Philippines, and what I was doing here, and told me to watch out for the woman here. The girl on the back of the moped laughed at that.

I told him I liked the Philippines, I'm a missionary, and I'm not shopping in the women department quite yet.

Sundays are country-wide "burn your garbage in the street” day.  It smelled.

There is a member here who really touches me.  He was in a motorcycle accident in 2006.  He got a metal plate put into his spine. The metal plate paralyzed him from the waist down.  The plate was only supposed to be in for three years, but it will have been five come May.  He doesn't have the money to get it removed and get his back fixed.  He doesn't have the money to even get a check-up.  We don't know if removing it would allow him to walk again.  He pays 150 pesos a week to get to church.  He has such determination to get there.  They have to hire a trike to pick him up, drive to the church, wait there, and then drive him home.  He has to be carried to the trike from his third-world shack.  It's heartbreaking.  150 pesos is so much money here.  He is so skinny from being stationary for a long time.  He is really affected by the weather.  
He asked us for a blessing this week.  We gave him one.  After we left, I had fire in my blood and I told Elder Pipit we had to go back.  So we did.  We got all his information and now we are contacting church services.  I wanted to contact them myself, but after talking to our mission president, he says we have to do it through local priesthood.  That's frustrating because I wanted to by-pass the bureaucracy.  We can't until it fails.  The church structure is less developed here. They don't know how to do some things, and I doubt that it will work this way.  It makes me sad, but I'm going to push it as far as it will go.

People here have such lack of opportunity.  They don't have a way to work for a better life.  If they break their arm, that's it that's the end of that arm - unless they want to impoverish their family for the rest of their lives.  Not only do they not have opportunity, but they don't dream to be more.  That's what my companion tells me.  He says they can't see past their small town lives.  But with that poverty comes some great things.  They are so humble, and really care about family.  Really care about it.  This man who is paralyzed is being taken care of by his 16 year old son.  His son cooks, goes to school, and washes clothes.  I'm really impressed.  They are so humble.  They don't have distractions like Americans do.  They won't turn away from the truthfulness of the gospel because there is nothing to turn away to.  It's really cool to see that.  I am happy to serve these people.  I wish I could speak to them too.

Oh man!  Pasma!  (Dad’s note: pasma means spasms.)  It's so funny.  People think that if you get rain on the crown of your head that you'll get pasma.  So people will put napkins, bandanas, plastic bags, or their hands over the top of their head to protect them from rain.  If I walk without an umbrella and it's raining, people will tell me out of pure concern, in Aklanon, "It's raining"  I smile and say "gusto ko ang pasma". (I like/want pasma.)

We had an investigator cry when he prayed at the close of a lesson this week.  It was touching.  He's a 21-year-old new father.  His baby is born into severe poverty, which is the norm, but still.  When you have a baby here, it requires your full attention.  It occupies every moment of your life.  You can’t wash clothes if you have a new baby.  That's where family comes in.  The mother-in-law or mother will step in and help.  It's really cool.  Family means so much here.  The whole family works to make money.  The whole family works in the fields.  The whole family works on making bundles of firewood, whether it be gathering, chopping, or tying it together.  The whole family takes turns running the "tindahan".  (A tindahan is a little shop where people sell things like soap, bread, or beer.  It's usually just along the side of the road.)

I love you all so much.
This last week, we taught 16 lessons with a member, plus 4 other lessons, and walked maybe the entire Appalachian Trail in a week.

It's rough to be tall here. Nothing is made for my size - chairs, stores, beds, jeepneys, or trikes. Oh man.

Yeah, I love you a lot.  I miss you.  Keep me in your prayers.  Pray away the mosquitoes!  Make sure Ed knows about dear elder.  I sent him a quick e-mail because I haven't been hearing from him.  I'll send pictures when I figure out pouch mail.  I am leaving out so much from this e-mail.  We’ve got to get back and teach.  Elder Pipit is going to Iloilo this next week for three days, and I'm paired up with Elder Ball.  His companion, Elder Kruz, is also going to Iloilo.  Neither Elder Ball nor I are very good at anything yet, so it's going to be an adventure for sure.  Elder Pipit still wants good numbers, so we are working on p-day!  It’s O.K. by me actually.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Will you wet the Book of Mormon?"

January 3, 2011
Tangalan, Aklan Province, Panay Island

I'm in the Philippines.  This place is nuts, and it's so incredibly poor.

It was a long, strange trip here.  Monday (Dec 27) morning I washed all my clothes and packed all my stuff.  It was tough to pack to just 44 pounds each.  So I'll just skip to LA.  When I said that I had to go, and end our conversation in LA, it turned out I didn't really.  My watch was still on Utah time, and I forgot about the time difference.  Sorry.  It was so nice to talk to you guys.  I loved it. I really miss you guys.

The flight to Hong Kong was way long.  I sat in between Elder Tran and Elder Wilson.  I slept on Elder Wilson's shoulder.  What a pal.  I didn't sleep much, though- I really couldn't.  Elder Tran watched Inception on the plane.  (Yeah, that's a no-no.)  Elder Wilson just read the Book of Mormon and slept.  I did crosswords with Sister Salway, and listened to missionary-appropriate music on the airplane’s entertainment service.

Elder Light in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong airport was wild.  Security was really low key for us.  Three people ran our stuff through a machine.  We didn't even take off our shoes or anything.  They did give a few of us really hard time though.  Elder Galloway had nail clippers, and that didn't go well.  They interrogated him in broken English.  We walked around the airport and felt so out-of-place.  I don't think they really like Americans there.  It was so cool to look outside.  They have really cool mountains.  The security people were not low key, though.  They were carrying around shotguns and machine guns. That was kind of wild for us.

On the plane to Manila, I sat beside Elder Tran and a man named Alden.  I tried to share the gospel with him, but to no avail.  He really wasn't all that interested.  He said he'd talk to the missionaries next time he saw them, but he didn't want to give me his address so they could visit them.  It was cool to try though.

Manila was nuts, especially with such a large travel group.  Our travel leader Elder Ball pretty much threw up his hands and said "Not my problem."  Getting through customs was a blast.  Elder Thayne couldn't get through, but because he and I had similar documents, they just let us through.  I thought that was wild.  It took a while to get our luggage.  Sister Salway never got hers.  After that, we all changed our money.  I changed about 45 dollars to pera.  Our next flight left in about an hour at that point, and that terminal was not nearby – it was not connected to the rest of the airport.  We were going to take a shuttle, but we couldn’t all fit, the next shuttle wasn’t coming for thirty minutes.  That was rough.  Elder Galloway and I just said “We need to take a taxi.  We have to.” 

So, we all got into taxis.  It was fun trying to communicate with the taxi drivers.  It was a sink or swim situation.  We swam.  It helped that I was with one of the Soderquist twins.  They're so good at Tagalog.  I handed him my money and told him to pay.  We got charged a lot, but we didn't have time to barter.  The drive was so crazy.  We went through small roadways, through neighborhoods - just ghettos - barely missing people and other vehicles, including motorcycles and trikes.  I didn't have time to worry about dying, but I'm sure if we weren't so pressed on time I would have been scared.

We got to the new terminal and through security.  Our plane was leaving in like 25 minutes. They open up some more lines just for us.  Then we noticed the Sisters were nowhere to be found, so Elder Galloway ran back and helped them carry their luggage.  All the while we were sweating bullets, because it's so hot here.  We got our luggage weighed and we had to pay yet another fee.  It took all the rest of my Filipino money, but I don't have time to worry about it.  We got through yet another security checkpoint, and barely made it on the plane.  The last one of us gets on the plane without his shoes.  He hadn't even put them on again.

The plane ride was relaxing.  It was so nice to have all gotten on.  It was crazy to go through that. We had to speak Tagalog or we'd have never made it on the plane.

Iloilo is so pretty, and very jungle-like.  It's really hot and humid.  There are rice fields, beer huts, water buffalo, chickens, and bamboo shacks.  It's really cool.  Plus it has pretty mountainous.  I like that. 

We had orientation at the La Paz chapel for a while.  They taught us a little Ilonggo, and we had a question and answer session.

Tired Travelers
That night (Wednesday, Dec 29) we had interviews with President Pagaduan.  Mine was very brief.  He mostly just thanked me for coming.  I said something like “you’re welcome.”  We had dinner at the mission home.  I tried to carry on a conversation with him, but I was too tired.  After dinner all the Elders passed out on his couch, including me.

We slept at a hotel.  I got in my room and hit the bed.  A while later, I got a phone call from the assistants telling me how to brush my teeth with clean water.  I told them I was asleep and wasn't interested on how to brush my teeth.  It was a funny conversation.  The next day (Thursday) we had more orientation.  We ate lunch and dinner at the mission home.  I was paired up with Elder Wilson for the day.  We learned a lot of Ilonggo.  It was pretty easy.  It's not a hard language to learn after Tagalog.  At dinner we had yellow watermelon - it was so delicious.  A giant lizard had gotten in the mission home, so a lot of the elders tried to get it out.  It was fun to watch.  Elder Soderquist finally got it out in a shoebox.

The next day (Friday, Dec 31) we had transfer meeting.  I was sad to say goodbye to a lot of people.  It was an uplifting meeting though.  Elder Light, Elder Ball, and I got sent to Kalibo up north.  They speak Tagalog here.  My companion is Elder Pipit from here in the Philippines.  He speaks English well, so I'm safe.  I like him, he's very patient.  I was stoked to come up here to Kalibo because it's where Elder Lowry is.  Sister Danner will be up here too when she gets here.  So you might pass the word onto her - study that Tagalog insane like.  We took a jeepney to the bus station.  It took three buses until we could get on one to Kalibo.  We finally got on one.  Elder Pipit fell asleep and I looked out the window.  It's so pretty and wet here.  When we finally got off the bus, one of my pieces of luggage was missing.  Bummer.  Yeah. I was kind of bummed, but I was ok about it.  

Our apartment is so bad.  It has rats, spiders and all sorts of crawly things.  It's about the same as camping.  We do have a fridge, though.  Without my bag, I didn't have a lot of stuff, such as bed sheets, so Elder Pipit bailed me out.  What a pal.  It was New Year’s night, and that was complete anarchy.  It sounded like a war outside.  I didn't get much sleep.

The Pacific Ocean, at Tangalan
The next day (Saturday, Jan 1), we went into town to ask about my luggage and replace some stuff, such as socks and soap and toothpaste and razors.  We had a meeting with our Branch President later in the evening.  We live pretty close to the branch. We live in Tangalan, not far from the ocean.  (Dad’s note: Tangalan is munipality the northern side of Panay Island, just west of Kalibo.  The town to look for on most maps is Afga.)  That night I hit the bed and slept until about five, when the Catholic Church started to ring a bell.  I didn't know what was going on.  I thought it was like 2:00 in the morning and someone was paging for help.  I asked Elder Pipit about it.  He didn't know what I was talking about, so I went to bed again.  

Sunday (Jan 2) morning was rough.  I was not very happy.  I thought I was ok about it on the outside, but people kept on asking me why I was so sad.  I bore my testimony in Sacrament Meeting and blessed the Sacrament too.  They speak a crazy language here.  Aklanon seems like half English and half something else.  I can understand the English part.  We taught a couple of lessons later in the day.  (Dad’s note: It seems that the missionaries teach in Tagalog when the investigator speaks it, and teach in Aklanon when Tagalog is not an option.)  The homes were pretty much just shacks.  They seemed like forts that 12 years olds build.  We tried to get them to pray at the end of first lesson, but it didn’t go so well.  The teenagers were kind of rowdy, but the dad listened.  The next lesson went well. I felt the Spirit, but didn't understand a darn thing.  They seemed to enjoy our lesson.

We wandered around looking for other people for a while.  It rained buckets on us.  We visited with some members and they made fun of me for my terrible Tagalog.  Our last lesson was with Jehovah's Witness.  That was nuts.  He wouldn't let us speak.  He told us that America was the nine headed dragon in the revelations, and that I prayed to the devil because didn't call God by his rightful name.  It was a bad lesson.  We pretty much just bore our testimonies and got out of Dodge.

Last night we got fed by an elderly lady.  I was timid at first.  Because of their humble house (shack) I wasn’t eating much.  She finally just put food on my plate and told me in broken English "You shy- you die."  I am pretty skinny.

Today (Monday, Jan 3) - oh yes, today!  Elder Light's companion had taken my luggage on accident, thinking it was Elder Light's.  So that was a relief.  They brought it to zone meeting!  I was so relieved to have it!  Elder Lowry was there.  That was so nice.  He got me through the first couple of days at the MTC and here he is again!  It was so good to catch up with him.  He's had two baptisms so far.  We are out in the boondocks here.  No joke.  It's like hillbilly heaven.  It's so third world.  The weather reminds me of the day Ben Gibson and I went to Dollywood in Eastern Tennessee - so wet, still hot, and very green and hilly. We ate pizza at a restaurant with a lot of other people from the zone, and now I'm here.

Oh guys, I love you so much.  I can't help but wonder what I've gotten myself into, though.  This place is so third world.  I still feel like I'm just visiting it, and when it sets in that a live here for two years I think I'll be in trouble.  Oh man.  I love you guys so much.  Pray for me to learn Tagalog.  I'll need it.

I have just another minute.  The fruit here is really good.  Most people laugh at me because I'm so bad at Tagalog.  The word “basa” pronounced one way means “wet,” and the other way means "read."  So, I said "Will you wet the book of Mormon?"

I love you.