Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tears and memories

Such an amazing experience. Just after a sacrament mtg.
The time fast approached when we had to leave the island paradise we have grown to love so much.  It has been a spiritual paradise as well as a tropical island paradise.  Last Monday we drove away in our little truck packed with luggage, memories, and a love for a people on a little island in the middle of a big blue ocean.  For the last time we parked our truck on the ferry and as we stood on the top balcony we waved good bye to dear friends standing on the dock, our last crossing to the island of Cebu. 
We will miss these brothers and sisters we have grown to love so much. 
Mary Anne always beat me in the pedicab race
A mission was such a unique experience.  We had the opportunity to be a part of people’s lives in two of the most important areas that exist in people’s lives, their relationship with God and family. Because we work with people at this level we get connected in such a deep way. Here is one last story we'd like to share: well, we can't promise it's the last but . . .
Bro J and Sis M's amazing house on the beach
Awesome family we were teaching just before we came home
Soon after we first arrived on our mission, we had the opportunity to help so many that were affected by tyhoon Sendong.  In one particular area that was hard hit we worked with the community to repair an elementary school.  In the process we got to know the barangay captain (cities are divided into barangays which have their own government but are still subject to jurisdiction of the city and the captain is elected by the people in the barangay and is the leader).  We met her husband and son at the elementary school graduation celebration a few months later.  We were able to get an appointment to go to their house to begin teaching the family.  One of their two children had previously died at a young age and they were particularly interested in hearing about the plan of salvation.  We taught the parents only. The twenty year old son was nice to us but did not have an interest at that time.  The parents listened politely, asked good questions, read and loved the Book of Mormon, but were not interested in seriously pursuing what we were teaching them.  So for about six months we did not teach them, although, we would see them from time to time and chat on the street or by the library.  About three weeks ago we made a final attempt to visit them in their home. We took the elders in our area to introduce them to the family and so they could continue to teach after we left.  All the chemistry was perfect.  The son was home because at the last minute his mom had told him he couldn't go to the party he had planned on.  The spirit was so strong, everyone had tears, especially the son.  He connected with message and with his mother and father in a way that surprised us all.  These are people who are well to do, the family is very well known in the community, the mother is a politician, the parents are leaders in “Couples for Christ”, a Catholic organization for married people to do good in the world.  The son is very athletic and very bright.  They are the type of family that would be a great asset in the any ward or branch.  To see this family come together in each other’s arms with tears, brought on by the Spirit of the scriptures they were exploring was such a miracle. The parents saw the effect the message had on their son and their level of interest heightened. They have been reading the scriptures and praying together as a family since.  It is obvious to the parents and the son that a significant event has happened because of that visit with the son present.
The following visit they were all were prepared with their scripture assignment read and they had great comments and questions on the readings. Last Friday we taught them for our last time.  They are in the final stretch of a campaign season that demands a lot of their time, but they asked us to come at 8 am, the only time they could squeeze in, so we could get in one more lesson before we left.  The Lord has prepared this family at this time and we had to leave, but they will be well taught by the zone leaders who are now will carry on in our place. 
The gospel pulls families together.
The A and the C family saying goodbye at the dock
We have been so blessed by being a part of this great work for the past eighteen months. We are now with our family and old friends. We have left our new friends, and we are grieving for that loss.  Our hearts have been knit together through the love of the Savior, a love we have shared--His gospel of life, hope and love.
Trying to describe the end of a mission is really not possible.  What have we really learned – our Heavenly Father and the Savior Jesus Christ have a love for each individual, a love that can only be described as an eternal and infinite love that we cannot understand, we can only have gratitude and amazement that we are able to observe how that love gets manifested in countless small ways.
After being home for a week we are already talking about our next mission.  How much we loved our first!!!

The Amlan Branch
Little Vincent's baptism
Returning F family. One of our three former branch presidents
The children of the A family
Our last Amlan branch outing: part of Sister A's family
Dumaguete 1 branch presidency with families
Zone conference Pres. & Sis. Schmutz
Our last missionaries in Amlan, Elder's V & T
Dropping off a bag of rice before we leave
The Schmutz's and the Cropper's outside their home. Temple behind us.
Just landed in Medford Oregon. Wow it is cold!!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lucky for Us -- In Many Ways

It is lucky we are scheduled to come home when we are, because I am quickly bursting out of my clothing, and by one week more I will be holding things together with nipa fronds. People ask us if we want to extend our time here, and we say that we are too excited to get home to family. But add to that the very real possibility that if we extended even a few more weeks, I would have to come home wrapped in banana leaves! Yes folks, expect a voluminous version of me when you see us next.  It's all good--old ladies get to grow mushy, right?  The cosmic inequity of it all, of course, and you can guess already, is that Elder Cropper looks fit and no less lean that ever.  And I'm certain he eats more, just in mango calories, than all my calories combined. Life is NOT fair!  But, enough catterwauling, I know you will all come to adore my new chins--we might even name them--and my triceps-turned-flacid-flesh is going to be a hit with the grandkids.  I sure liked it on my Grandma.
If the above is not appropriate for a missionary blog, please forgive me.  I try to tell the truth here in Paradise.
Happy birthday little one
We got to attend the 1st birthday party of a friend of ours.  His parents are about the coolest ever--valiant, faithful, even beautiful (yes, I am on a shallow bent today) diligent, and they really "get" the gospel culture that is so hard to replace for traditions of the fathers. I only hope they are not trying too hard to be 'perfect'. They both served missions.  They married when they found the right person, not when it was convenient--they welcomed kids (she is pregnant with number 2) in spite of very vocal opposition about the stupidity of that--she traded her passion (she is a national martial arts champion) for their new life of family, and all in a setting where the voices to do otherwise are very loud and persuasive. We really admire this little family.
This little family is so great.
The party was a blast.  Sister G made the cake--it is her new business she is trying to get going.  The extended G. fam put on a feast--huge prawns, whole crabs, and of course a lechon baboy (spit-roasted pig) and multiple other dishes!!  The decorations were darling, the games dangerous (a version of pinata, but with a clay pot--blind-folding kids with bats is such a great idea--no wonder we do it) and the videoke going. There was even a video slide show of little Brother I's first year. A perfect party for a great kid with a promising future. I knit him a hat, which seems overkill in this climate, but people really do wear them on those chilly nights that get down to 78.

Elders ready to dig into the lechon baboy

This shrimp was no shrimp

The G family
Cute - Mary Anne's hat and the baby.

As I promised, part two of our 3 returning brothers story.  The process has been miraculous. 
Bro & Sis. C with 3 of their 5 children
  Brother C, former Branch President of S. Branch, told us when we first came to see him that the church had been a chapter in his life, but that chapter is now closed, and he is going on to other things. He only let us in because we came with an army--his Branch President, the 1st counselor, another brother from the branch, the sister missionaries and us. We focused only on his story, and his experiences in the church before, and we brought up nothing about returning to church.  On the next visit, Elder Cropper was sick, so he couldn't go, but we were so grateful that Bro. C had agreed to see us again, that we didn't want to risk rescheduling. So, I recruited the sister missionaries who are assigned to his area, Sister Shahid and Sister Bosio, and I preached to him of the bounty of Christ's love and the value of His sacrifice and about how it makes no sense to ignore Christ's poignant plea and command to repent (D &C 19) or suffer as He suffered.  Why choose captivity and death?  He accepted the assignment to read of repentance and really took in what we taught.  The Sisters both bore powerful testimony.
The next time, he told us that he did not intend to return to church, but he was willing to strengthen his relationship with the Savior, and to start reading again, which was all we had asked.
After that, things changed.  Elder Cropper and I taught him and his wife several times over the ensuing weeks.  It was slow at first, because he had been so hurt by some dealings with his priesthood leaders.  He told us he had spend many bus rides to work weeping about what had happened, and he had decided to just close that chapter and build up a wall in order to cope.  But each time we taught him, his countenance softened and his demeanor brightened, until he informed us on our visit one Sunday that he had taken his family to church that day!!! Yup, without even our suggesting it.  He just got up, and while his wife and kids were preparing for church as they always did, he took a bath and put on his white shirt and tie and told them to hurry up, he didn't want to be late. It was his first time in the door in 5 years or more. 

We had warned them that things would get tougher before they got easier.  And they did.  The long bottled up resentment within their relationship came out.  He back-slid.  There was some anger and some frustration and some big decisions about how to change their lives to let the gospel back in.  Stepping foot inside the building doesn't solve everything.  But we counseled them through it all, and the Spirit taught them so generously, and they continued to read and pray, so it has ironed itself all out.  We fasted with them last week, telling them that as they made a huge decision about their lives, they needed to each be willing to give up their position and submit, not to the other person's will, but to God's will, and determine what was best for the family.  Again he shocked us all, and backed away from a dream of his, deciding he would not allow it to take him away from leading his family in the gospel. 

 We were flabbergasted.  What an amazing decision.  What pioneers they are.  What trials they have faced.  They have had reversals, but when people tell the stories of the folks who 'trekked' to Zion here in the Philippines, their story will be one of those that is told.
This is a text from Brother C, "We have ended our fast too. We will surely treasure those wonderful moments we spend together with my family. You have counseled us a lot and inspired us in many ways.  We truly appreciate both of you and you are very special to us.  We are going to build this time the C family Phil. Team!"

Next week Elder Cropper will show proper balute eating(fetal cooked duck egg) technique.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Brother N was the first--a tale of brothers in the gospel

 Probably our final meeting with the N family. Forty years ago I taught and baptized the woman in the hat, Sis C.  who is visiting Cebu from Sacramento where she now lives.  Her brother and his wife are in front.  I taught him, Bro N., who now serves as a sealer in the Cebu Temple and was made a Patriarch last year.  We have such love and respect for this man and what he and his dear wife have made of their lives. They are now our eternal friends

Bro N's son Bishop N who is a second generation member with his wife and two sons. The oldest one "H" was just baptized. A third generation member. Born in the covenant. They shared with us a video of him singing at his baptism with his lolo (grandpa) on guitar. So tender.

We are with Dean Edward, Bro N's son named after me. Wow!

We were visiting with one of the branch presidents and he told us of a missionary couple in his mission who were on their 7th mission!!!.  Yikes!  They were both in their late 70s and he said they lived in a place where they had to fetch (haul) their water! He had some endearing stories of their kinda cute limitations, like her sight wasn’t very good so she would always mix up the missionaries unless she could actually grab their name badge and sight in on it. But still he had great respect for them.  Heck, I mix up the missionaries and my sight is just fine (ya, with my glasses on). So who knows if we will still be doing this in another 2 decades.
They just received their mission call from Tanjay branch.
We will be home in 3 1/2 weeks, and we have the proverbial mixed emotions. We know that asking "why" is rather futile and often dangerous--why me? Why now?  Why this?  But we find ourselves asking it anyway, only not on the murmuring side, more on the stand-all-amazed side.  Like why did we get to live in this house, why did we get to use all our skills and still get challenged, but not too much?  And why did we get to be involved in helping so many people find the joy of returning to their Savior?  Not everyone gets all that on a mission.  We know that.  And not all joyful, rewarding experiences can be numbered or measured or compared.  Certainly God has his reasons, but whatever they are, we are grateful—grateful that we can look at a list and write down actual names and count up the souls who are now remembering their covenants to always remember him and reaping the blessings of doing so.
An FHE at Sis B's. We baptized her last year
You should have heard them sing for their teacher!!
In addition to Bro. T, from our last post, and more than a dozen others from throughout our mission, there are 3 men in particular in 3 different branches who we are grateful for of late.  Each of them has a different story, but each has a couple things in common. They had all separated from the church, and they had all served as branch presidents in the past. These are men who knew and understood the gospel, who had studied the scriptures and the handbooks of instruction and who were converted enough to accept this rather daunting calling.  They were men preparing for or recently sealed in the temple when satanic disaster struck.  One transgressed, drinking with the boys at Fiesta, and his repentance and disciplinary process was not well handled and he slipped away for 10 years.  Ya, ten!  One was behind on his tithing. He went in for settlement, intending to clear it up, and his temple recommend was taken away.  No one has been able to resolve his concerns for the last 5 years.  One was just about to preside over the open house of the chapel he had worked so hard to oversee the procuring and building of, when he was accused of some kind of financial impropriety. He too has been gone almost a decade. All the details didn't come out.  No need for that.  We just listened and loved, and helped them remember who the Savior is, and how to return to Him.
Need we say more
Each man attended church for the first time within a couple of Sundays of each other, and all three bore testimony on Fast Sunday in three different branches in 2 different districts unbeknownst to each other.  Imagine!!   
As an element of our visits with them, Elder Cropper would ask if they wanted a blessing, and they each adamantly did.   Then Elder Cropper asked the husband if he would like to join him as he gave a blessing to the wife.  For the first time in years, each man felt the love of the Savior as a fellow priesthood holder placed his hands on his head and called down the power of Heaven to comfort and strengthen him.  Then each man stood and for the first time in years and exercised the long atrophied power of the priesthood which they still held. The first time this happened, and I watched the man in tears of relief and joy, I expressed to him that I really knew now the reason we left our home and family.  I know now the answer to our grand daughter's question, "Grammy why do those people in the Philippines need you more than we do?" God doesn't always let us know the reasons why, but he has been most bountiful in His allowing us to know.

Brother F described his experience thus: “your message has awakened the yearnings in my long dormant heart”.  Now that is a man who was prepared to return.  He began reading his scriptures again, asked a few doctrinal and historical questions that had plagued him over the years and that his buddies would torment him with, and he began to repent.  We visited him one Sunday, grateful he had attended in his branch as he had promised (we had asked the missionaries to watch for him, welcome him and report back).  We asked him about his experience there.  He told us that he had quit drinking a week before so he could be prepared and feel ready when he got to church.  Because of his preparation, his experience was really powerful.  Apparently he had been drinking every night for most of the last decade, but he gave it all up overnight in order to feel the Spirit again.
One of our favorite families. The father baptizing his daughter-in-law
Sis. B's daughter's baptism
 His wife is still hesitant, waiting for him, busy in the end of school whirlwind that teachers all experience here, and plagued with a virus that has kept her feverish and coughing. But she has wept for joy at the changes her husband is making, knowing he so badly needed the gospel in his life. She has not yet had her own mighty change of heart, nor invested the effort he has. They both acknowledge that she waited for him to lead out when they were being taught the gospel, and now, she is waiting for him to lead out on their return.  We attended their branch last Sunday.  Sister F was home sick, but there he was in white polo, with his little girl happily sitting beside him. As we taught this man each week, we saw him change physically and spiritually.  His questions were more thoughtful, his repentance more evident, his thirst for scripture and doctrine more pronounced.  It was a joy to help awaken his “dormant heart” and see him figuratively yawn and stretch and then dig back in to his spiritual labors. 
It’s a miracle.

Stay tuned for the next 2 episodes--if we don't run out of time :)
The senior couples of Cebu Mission with Our President and his wife front and center. Great people!!! Are YOU ready?