Monday, June 4, 2012

Trials for building. Miracles for strengthening.

Dear Mom,
This email has me off to the races. I have so much to write and so little time. I just can't seem to manage to have regular, normal weeks here in my last transfer.

As in Elder Tingey's email to me, I can completely relate to his catchy introduction:


This week has been probably the most notably eventful week of my whole mission. Get comfortable, I'm taking the whole hour to write this email and it's going to be long.

Only a few hours later after I wrote my last email, we got a surprise call from some leaders for more breaking news. After only a few days after transfers, my companion, Elder Savage, was getting emergency transferred to my last area, and my new companion was going to be my last next-door neighbor, good ol' Elder Staples from nowhere else but Utah. We were shocked beyond belief and not expecting that change. The change, I've found though, has been for the better. It's nice to basically be opening this area up again and start fresh. Get to do it my way for my last transfer and not have to follow the past patterns of previous missionaries. We are starting for the ground and going nowhere but up.

Right before Elder Savage left.

Elder Banlat, in the blue, kept on picking the vegetables!

A typical elementary school class.
Our Elder from Perth Australia,where Ryan Squires served!
Elder Chapman is my replacement, another Filipino from Las Vegas!
Don't mistake us for natives! Sister Ultra is also just like me, but instead of Fil-Am, she's a Fil-Can!
Me and Elder Corpuz.
Aurora Chapel, or old mission center and the largest chapel in the Philippines.

Elder Corpuz and my group.

Wednesday we had a great service project. Summer here (as in the months that there is no school) is from April to June. So as all the little kiddies in the states are just about ready to get out and have summer break, we are all preparing for the first day of school here. The sisters in our zone arranged for us to help get this school ready to be opened. It was really shocking to see the conditions that kids go to school in here. There were about three thousand kids in this little elementary school, and because of a shortage of teachers (due to lack of funds from the government) there is a morning, afternoon, and night schedule rotation that goes along. Classes are about 50+ which makes the environment for these children to learn, very far from ideal. Attention is rarely given. Names are rarely remembered.

They had us in the garden for the most part. Weeding by hand. It was really funny because we were all so excited to come and help clean the school, thinking we were going to paint, sweep, or do other janitorial jobs, but no. We were assigned to weeding. We got outside and when we all found out, we just all kind of looked at each other, put on plastic smiles, and went to work! The funniest thing is that most of us couldn't tell the difference between a weed and a vegetable. I made fun of Elder Banlat a lot because it seemed like every other thing he pulled out was some kind of vegetable!

On Friday we had the amazing, and for some, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet, listen to, and shake hands with an Apostle - Elder Russell M. Nelson. I had a great experience that I'll share with a little later. It was really weird because we drove all the way to my very first zone in Quezon City which is now in another mission. We saw Aurora Chapel, our old mission center, and I saw lots of places I used to go on splits with with my zone leaders back then. It was a day I definitely will never forget, and the chapel was so small that we were all in extremely well distance. I don't know if I will ever be able to have an opportunity to be that close to an Apostle ever again for the rest of my life. Elder Russell M. Nelson is truly a great man. An amazing heart surgeon that has been highly recommended around the world, performing surgeries on international leaders - not to mention he was the man who invented that machine that people use when you get heart transplants (sorry I don't know the name of that haha). A figure in the world's eye and a figure in the church's eye - it was more than memorable to be in his presence.

Saturday we had temple tour and had a great time as usual. We took some future missionaries from a less-active family that we've been teaching, the Navarro Family. They also brought their friend who was taught previously by sisters that were assigned in the area. We had a great trip to Manila and to my surprise, Marcie was spending the day volunteering at the temple so we got to catch up over lunch in the cafeteria. I miss that kid.

I also was able to see the other Elder Corpuz and able to talk to him for a little. The other Elder Corpuz and I, believe it or not, haven't been on the best terms during our missions. We are polar opposite and never really got along when we were in the same zones. A couple transfers ago, he wrote me a really heart-warming letter, sent unnecessary apologies, and expressed that he wanted us to be really close friends. I was extremely moved and beyond appreciative. Elder Corpuz's example, to me, is a great example of how the  church never calls leaders because they are better than others or qualified to be. They call people that need to learn something from that position. We all kind of laughed and questioned when Elder Corpuz became a leader, but now, I can see that he's been taking everything he can take out of his responsibilities and has changed a lot. He has held our name well. I've met many that have become assistants to the president and zone leaders and have walked away from their positions in a way that I think God frowns on a little - leaving thinking they are now better than others and have acquired nothing but pride. I know Elder Corpuz didn't take that path though, and I'm glad to share names with him.

Yesterday we had church and had the best coordination meeting with the branch that I've had my whole mission. My companion and I have been struggling because records weren't filled out properly in our area and we have few addresses and names of people missionaries were teaching previously. Our amazing branch mission leader gathered up all the leaders and each was willing to help. Now we are ready to begin. We also had a great family home evening with the Saliva (pronounced sa-lee-vah) family as a welcome to the branch. I'm sad I'll only be here for one transfer. This area is amazing!

And this morning we all got together and played some volleyball. I proudly rocked my baby brother and sister's school on me today. I was hoping to match my bandanna too, until I realized that I gave Elder Posadas my red one in our last service project together in Valenzuela. I try to be remembered as the Elder who does fun things on p-day that doesn't involve napping.

And that was this week. Eventful? 

If you have been skimming the email you want to start reading now.

I learned a really important lesson this past week that has been pounded into my head over and over again, but now finally settled.

The days leading up to our mission conference were really hard for me. Change is never easy for me and you know that mom. (Random, but forgot to answer your question mom. San Jose del Monte is actually still a part of Bulacan... just the other side.) And I had a rough one with the companion switch and now having the area put on my shoulders. Thursday night before I went to bed, I had one of those prayers before bed where you just kneel and open your heart and let all the problems and tears pour out. It was one of those nights that it seemed like heaven felt so far away. One specific thing I asked for from Heavenly Father is that there could be something the next day that I would hear from one of His Apostles that would touch me and help me. Something that would prick my heart and I would recognize was just for me. Something that could help me remember that God answers prayers and that He is still mindful of me.

As the day went on, it seemed pretty gloomy. I was all smiles but lonely and empty inside. Drained from events, I needed help. I needed to be lifted up. You would think that being around all the missionaries in the mission would have been a great reunion, but in the midst of all 150 of them, I never felt so alone. Everyone being new, I realized I didn't really know anyone in the mission anymore. I talked to a couple people, but spent most of my time trying to find people to talk to. Since Elder Posadas is in the office now, it was nearly impossible to get to him because everyone wanted to talk to him. I felt like a little kid in high school again, not belonging.

The conference began and we were all able to get up, look Elder Nelson right in the eyes, and shake his hand. When it was my turn, it was extremely rushed so I didn't have the greatest experience. As the conference went on, I realized there were so many of us. And for him to even recognize me or know that I needed to hear something from him that day was of extremely short chance. The talk was amazing and was about how our purpose as missionaries ties directly to God's purpose in helping His children. It was a pretty broad talk though, and although a few things stuck out, I still felt like the thing I needed was missing. And then the talk ended.

As we got out our hymnbooks for the closing hymn, I just tried to convinced myself that it was okay. It wasn't meant to be, and that maybe God had something else or some other way to help me. Our closing hymn was one of my favorites that I know by heart, "I Know that My Redeemer Lives." After thinking about those things and not singing the first two verses, I decided to cheer up and sing the third and fourth verses. Sitting from the second row, not even ten feet away from Elder Nelson, I picked up my hanging head and looked up. When I looked up, I saw Elder Nelson staring straight at me, and seeing as everyone around me had their heads buried in the hymnbooks, I had no doubt that I was the one he was looking at. He smiled, locked his eyes on mine, and winked at me. Tears followed.

It was such a simple thing, but I knew it was just for me. It was like he was telling me to not worry, because he knew. He knew that I needed him and that I needed to know that Father hadn't forgotten about me. My prayer was answered. He got up after the hymn and made it towards the door. Before he left, he shouted, "We love you!" and made an exit. 

There is nothing like experiences like this that help you remember what you believe in and pick you up in times of need. But what I've learned, is that a person can't live on spiritual experiences like that alone. After that conference, you would think we would all magically become perfect after seeing an Apostle of Jesus Christ. You would think. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that.

After the conference, I realized that it's true what the scriptures say. You can see miracles. You can see amazing things. You can see Christ himself. But those things can't and will never be able to build your faith. Even those who see and lack faith will still not believe. Nothing can replace the simple things that build testimonies day to day. Reading scriptures, sincere prayer, or choosing to do right in day to day trials. Miracles very rarely change human nature. Change and building faith take time. It takes good, righteous decision making everyday through trials and problems given to us to do just that. Seeing Apostles and witnessing miracles confirm and strengthen personal testimonies and faith in Jesus Christ. You can experience all the world has to offer. Be trained by the best teachers, leaders, and masters alike. But as anything else, change doesn't start anywhere else but with you.

I'm excited for the next few weeks and I'm so thankful for all that's happened this week. I can't believe I'll be leaving a month from today. But you're right mom - can't talk about it. Just have to focus, be obedient, and just do as you said, "live as a true missionary". Thanks for the uplift. You are irreplaceable.

Elder Corpuz