Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Week 14

It doesn't get much more maganda than this. :) 

  Okay...maybe it does, haha.
 A typical house (this one was a little bit bigger than most)
 We took a shortcut through the cemetery. Here, they put people in concrete tombs because it is too wet to bury people. Sometimes the tombs split open...I've seen pictures on other missionaries cameras of skulls and stuff that fell out of some of the old tombs. Pretty freaky. I didn't see any when we walked through, but I did get a few bad smells that hit me as I passed. 

Pictures of my zone and I in our pyramid last week in the riverbed. 
Bottom row, starting from the left: Elder Stokes, Elder Morris, Elder Olsen, Elder Biggs, Elder Despain, Elder Ontoria. Next up, starting from left: Elder Olila, Elder Espinosa, Me, Brother Nery (Church Service Missionary - he's waiting for his call), Elder Janolgue. Next up, from the left: Sister Rafol, Sister Huddleston, Elder Batoy, Elder Raagas. Two on the top: Sister De Los Santos, Sister Bucais (she is FIlipina, but from Toronto).

Sa aking pinakamagmahal na pamilya (I think that’s correct)

Kumusta po kayo lahat?

Haha I have a new companion! His name is Elder Dela Paz and he is sobrang magaling (he’s really good at what he does). He is from Davao City (in Mindanao) and is the fourth missionary in his family. He has six siblings. He is really into music (reggae especially) and is an amazing guitar player and singer. We are getting along great and working hard trying to find some new investigators to teach.  Also, my Tagalog is getting a lot better because he doesn’t speak very much English. We are ALWAYS speaking in Tagalog, which is great. Sobrang maganda iyan, parang nagiging Filipino ako J

Transfer Day was fun. I got to go to 7-11 and get a Chiao-Pao (pronounced Chow Pow) – it’s like this meaty bun thing with a super tasty sauce (I think it’s a Chinese thing). The slurpee machine wasn’t working, otherwise I would have gotten a big gulp in a limited edition Hobbit cup. (How is the Hobbit by the way? Just kidding…don’t tell me about it, haha). I love the food here, but it is nice to shell out for some Westernized treats once in a while.
They also gave us lunch on transfers – I had an actual sandwich, with actual bread, and actual smuckers jam, and nasty Philippines peanut butter (96% Saturated Fat, 2.5% peanuts, and 1.5% preservatives). It was good though. They also had tuna sandwiches there, which were good too. I had to wait a while for my new companion because he was coming from the Baler zone way on the other side of the mission.

The work is going well – it was a little bit slow this week because of transfers. We have a baptism coming up on Feb 26th and I am super pumped for it. It is Sister Marlyn – I might have mentioned her before. She is from the area that I and Elder Janolgue visited before because we were close with all the kids that walked there from school every day. Out of all of the people we contacted there, she was the only one that wanted to hear more from us. Our challenge to her was to read and pray about the Book of Mormon, and we invited her to be baptized during part of the second lesson. She accepted the commitment, but didn’t come to church. She went to church last week for the first time, and when we visited her a few days later to follow up, she told us that she had received an answer to her prayers as she attended church, and that she really wants to be baptized now. She wasn’t able to come to church yesterday because she was feeling sick, but she sent her ten year old son and two of his friends to church and they went to primary. She is so excited about the church now, and she has been inviting all of her friends to listen to us and to come to church. We have been able to start teaching a few of her friends, who weren’t interested before and a bunch of them want to set up a day where we preach a ‘sermon’ to the whole neighborhood (about forty people or so). There is so much potential here now. I’m so grateful for the opportunities we have – the Lord truly does prepare people to hear his word.

I also taught some piano lessons the other week for the YW’s new beginnings program. I taught them how to read music and count. Next time I will start some of them out on the piano and see how it goes. It was fun and they learned really fast. I have had a great time playing the ‘organ’ in sacrament meeting – the spirit is always strong during the hymns, even if the people singing (like me) aren’t the most talented singers.

We are really focusing now on finding new people to teach. We have a couple of areas with lots of investigators, but there are many more that we need to do some finding in. There are 52 Barangays (neighborhoods, with about 200-800 people in each one) here, and we are only able to go to about 10-14 of them, because the other ones are so far away or they have terrorist groups in them. There are a few areas that we are only allowed to go to in the daytime because of kidnappings and hold-ups and stuff at night, and I’ve passed through military checkpoints several times, haha. That said, there are still a lot of potential areas that we haven’t been to yet, and I’m hoping we can find some more people to teach in them. We are going to request some bikes so that we can get around a bit more. Sometimes we walk 5-10 kilometers in one day, haha. (Elder Janolgue and I timed ourselves once – we walked from District 8 to Maycaban, about 3 kilometers, in 30 minutes – we were hauling it)

I have been learning a lot about Tagalog lately. I am almost able to comfortably have a conversation with someone. I’ve found as I’m handwriting letters that I’ll sometimes accidently write the Tagalog word instead of the English word, or I’ll reverse the order of the English words by accident. It’s the same when I try to talk to someone in straight English. It’s almost easier to use Tagalog now in a lot of cases. I love speaking a different language, but sometimes I worry that I’m going to lose my English.
I don’t really have a lot of stories this week. I ate chicken blood again – it tasted better this time around. I think the sauce was the reason. Elder Dela Paz really loves buying food from the BBQ stands, so I have a feeling I will be eating a lot of Dugo and chicken intestines haha. He wants me to try eating chicken head, but I can’t bring myself to do it (They boil the head until it is relatively soft, and then you can either eat the whole thing like a meatball, or just pick the skin/eyes off of it, haha). I haven’t had Balut lately, but I will probably eat it again soon to get some respect from the members, haha.

I’ve been thinking about something foodwise that I could write that would make Dad jealous, because he always is giving me visuals of the delicious meals that Mom cooks, haha. I finally figured out what I could use. Mangoes. They are SO GOOD here. Our landlady gave us a bunch of fresh ones the other day, and I swear, they are the same kind of fruit that Lehi ate off of the Tree of Life. I like to just peel them and eat them like an apple. You can buy two kilos of mangoes here for about 1.25. Delicious. Whenever I am craving food from home, I just pop a mango or two and remember that I can only get them like this here, haha.

The swelling in my face is gone…I don’t really know what caused it, but it only lasted a day. I’m glad it’s gone…the members would just look at me and then laugh. It was hilarious. I will definitely continue to take my vitamins. I had a cold the other day and I got rid of it in about two days with oregano oil and vit C.

I am so happy to be here. I love my new companion, and I’m excited for the coming week and for the work we’ll do. Also I got the package you sent…I have to wait to open it though (we’re still in Paniqui). Thank you so much!

I love you guys,
Love Jared.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Week 13 Philippines

 Screensaver material. The sunsets are so gorgeous here

 We were invited to the birthday party of the Branch Presidents daughter (she is turning ten). I let her pick out one of the butterflies that Janae made. We had spaghetti , macaroni salad (which is a dessert here), cake and RC Cola (about 78% carbonation, 20% aspartame, and 2% cola flavoring, haha)
 Monica, Rizalyn, and Richelle (13, 14, 16 - Richelle is the one that fell asleep for three days
 Some of my favorite kids here in Cuyapo - they are all Brother Rey's kids. Their names (left to right) are Patrick, Daniel, and Arjay (the little one). They are hilarious.
 Family Home Evening with the Oliveros Family!
 A cool lizard thing I saw. I saw a kid the other day with one - he had a string tied around its neck and was dragging it around. I think it might have been dead, haha. (He was maybe Jarom's age - the kid, that is).  They are probably 6-8 inches long and like to hide in leaves. 

 The meeting house

Did somebody ask for a desktop background?

Sinigang! (sour soup). We had a good lunch. 

Dear Family,
This week has been good! One of our investigators finally came to church! We have been teaching her since the beginning of December, and have invited her to be baptized a couple of times. She wasn’t sure before if she wanted to or not, but when she was leaving the church yesterday after Sunday school, she told one of the members that she really wants to be baptized now. Everything went well – all of the members were super friendly and helpful to her, and the lesson in Sunday school happened to be all about baptism and confirmation. We have a date of Feb 26 set for her baptism, and I’m super excited to go back and teach her again this week.

Tatay Oliveros is also doing amazing – he seemed really upset and shy when we visited him last Saturday, but this week we had a home evening at their house. We played some games, had treats and shared a message. Brother Oliveros really came out of his shell and we all had a lot of fun. We gave him a whole bunch of Mentos candy, and he said he would eat one every time he felt like smoking. Yesterday at church, Sister Oliveros was very excited. She told us that Brother Oliveros had some great news for us…but that we have to wait to hear it. She says he is progressing more than he ever has before. I am pumped to see what has happened.

We gave an interesting blessing last week…I don’t know if I told you about it yet. We went to visit some of the recent converts in our branch (three teenaged sisters), and were shocked when one of their cousins came running up to their house carrying Richelle (one of the sisters). She looked like she was unconscious, but when I looked closer, I saw that she was breathing. I guess that her family hadn’t been able to wake her up that morning – it was like she was asleep, but couldn’t be woken up by anything. I guess it had happened once before, and she was asleep for three days. We gave her a blessing, and exactly three days later, she woke up again. It was really odd. I asked her about it after, and what it felt like, and she told me that she had visited a place – like a huge field full of white flowers, and that her father and niece (both have passed away) were there, as well as a white lady that she didn’t recognize. She says it was beautiful there, but that she felt scared the whole time, and that she was really tired and hungry feeling. It was interesting to hear about. The doctors can’t find anything wrong with her. We’re glad that she’s alright though.
We found a few new investigators last week – and they are all very interested in listening to us. We have been looking for quite a while, because a lot of the investigators we have now are just not progressing. It is a blessing to have people that are willing to listen to our message. We are planning on extending some more BGDs this week.

Also, big news – next Monday when I write to you, I will have a new companion. Transfer announcements are on Wednesday. I will almost certainly be staying in Cuyapo, and I will either be getting a new senior companion or I will be training. I am happy that I get to stay here. The work is really starting to pick up, and I will probably be around in the spring when the new chapel is finished. That will be great. I am just hoping and praying for another good companion like Elder Janolgue – If I get a pasuway (disobedient) right now and all of our progress gets ruined I might feed him to the spiders in our roof, haha.

Things have really gotten a lot better in the branch too – President Toledo has been really supportive and has been helping us with fellowshipping our investigators. The members seemed to have stepped things up too. One of the area goals for the Philippines this year is for every active member to rescue at least one less-active member and return them to the church, so one of our jobs as missionaries is to help with that process. There are about 50 active members here in Cuyapo and about about 200 less actives. We have been visiting a lot of them…many left because they have no friends in the church, or because they were having trouble with Word of Wisdom things. Some of them just can’t afford to get a trike to go to church every Sunday (but the money seems to magically appear when there is a Christmas party, haha). I hope that the members will be able to put out a greater effort to help these less actives return. It is so much more powerful when the members reach out.

Oh! I have an Elder Curtis Despain from Idaho in my zone – he says he has Callahans in his family tree somewhere back too. I’m pretty sure we are related somehow.

There are a lot of challenges here, but I don’t think life would be half as meaningful without them. They are certainly a part of missionary work and are meant to make us better people. I’ve found as I work hard and trust in the lord, they aren’t as bothersome, and I am able to press forward. I have learned so much, and I still have a lot more to learn in the future.

Thank you all for your letters and support. They have helped a lot. I will be printing that talk off that you sent, Mom. I’m sure it will help me a lot.

I love you all,

Love, Jared

Monday, January 14, 2013

Philippines January 14, 2013

 Lovely scenery..I am lucky to be in such a beautiful area. 

 Cockroaches! We swept them onto the back porch and lit them on fire. I almost threw up, haha. 

 Cleaning out the cupboards with my broom and my air soft gun that I bought...I was coughing for like three days after that.
 Our cockroach bonfire.
 I shelled out for some high quality toilet paper (mostly just for cleaning). The brand name about describes it, haha. 
 More kids. They wanted me to do some magic tricks for them, but I had to tell them that I don't know magic ("Wala akong magic!"). They were excited to have a picture though...I had to tell them not to climb on me because they almost all pinned me to the ground as soon as I said the word 'picture'. The kids here are so hilarious. 
 Daan (path/road). Magandang scenery dito sa Cuyapo
 Some of my Zone on the riverbed - we went to a dried up riverbed for P-day.

 A baby lizard that I caught today. So cute. 

One more time with the baby lizard. 

January 14, 2012
Dear Family,
How are you all doing? I am doing fabulously here in the Philippines. We had a pretty good week even though we weren’t able to teach a lot of our investigators for various reasons. We were able to find a lot of less actives to teach though – some of them haven’t been to church for years. A lot of them were baptized into the church and then returned to their previous churches because they couldn’t make the effort to go to church every Sunday. It will be exciting to re-introduce the gospel into their lives. For me, one of the greatest things out here has been seeing people change as their hearts are softened and they gain a desire to progress. I have talked a lot about Tatay Fransisco Temporal – the first time we visited him, he had been drinking, and was probably on the verge of throwing up. The next couple of times he was pretty disinterested and unresponsive to our invitations to him, but when we visited the third time with Brother Agustin, he expressed a desire to return. We visited him again yesterday and he warmly received us, listening intently to the things we said and adding his own experiences from the past. It really shows me the difference between just teaching lessons and teaching people. What this brother needed was love and fellowship…the message alone wasn’t enough for him. It is so wonderful to see his desire to change – it’s like his countenance is completely different. We are hoping to help him to attend church with his family on Sunday, and we’ve talked about a goal of him and his family being sealed in the temple in the coming years. It is so great as a missionary to see people progressing.

None of our investigators are really progressing. Some of them have WOW problems, and some of them aren’t able to come to church because of work or trouble with prioritizing. Others live far away and it is expensive for them to travel into town. It is discouraging sometimes, but it isn’t our job to be discouraged. All we can and should do is continue to invite them and help them have the desire to progress in the ordinances of the gospel.  That said…we have been looking for new investigators lately. I’ll give you an update on that when we have some good ones. It is kind of hard to find people in Cuyapo, because so many people here have already had contact with the missionaries, and therefore have an opinion beforehand. A lot of them are just too set in their ways and aren’t open for discussion (but they will never tells us that…they just hide and run away when we try to visit, haha). Hopefully we’ll find the one we’ve been praying for…the one that will progress, haha.

We taught Tatay Oliveros again on Saturday. I love lessons over there. He was really shy last visit…I think the reason was he had given in and smoked a cigarette and he was feeling bad about it. We are having a family home evening at their house tonight. We want to let him know that we love him and that we really care about helping him through his challenges with smoking. He is a great example of faith, and I hope we can find the things that we need to find in order to help him.
On a more temporal note…I am starting to fall in love with Filipino food. I’m not sure if it is just the MSG, or if I have a tapeworm or something (that would be gross), but I am just always so hungry, and I eat a LOT. 9 times out of ten, I will finish everything on the table if everyone else is done already. Everything tastes so good – especially the vegetables. One of my favorite things is unripe mango with salt…it is surprisingly delicious. Pomelo (those big grapefruit things) is also really good with salt. You guys should try one – to eat it, just peel it and separate it like an orange. Instead of just biting into the slices like an orange, you pull the skin part off and just eat the little juicy bits inside. Make sure you put salt on it though. I saw that you guys ate dragon fruit. Nice! Dragon fruit is pretty good – they don’t have it here, but I have tried it before.

I could go on all day about the food here, haha. You guys should look up the recipe for Adobo…you can make it with any kind of meat and it is super good with rice.

Thank you all for everything. This church really is true, and I’m grateful to be able to be here in the Philippines to share it with people.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Happy New Year

January 6,2012
Naimbag na rabi! 

Yes, that's right. I'm learning Ilocano, haha. That means 'good evening.' (I think it is evening right now over there in Canada). My Tagalog is getting a little bit better…but it is still very pangit (nagiging mas mabuti ang Tagalog ko …pero, pangit pa rin) A lot of people speak Ilocano in Cuyapo, so I have been learning a few phrases to raise some eyebrows with some of the older people, haha.

This week was interesting. We had to get haircuts this week (especially me – to fix my terrible mistake from last week) and we decided to brave the salon this morning and get some quality haircuts. We walked in, and there were two guys (?) cutting hair in blouses and jeans that should never be worn by guys, topped off with long, dyed-blonde hair and full makeup. There were three more guys that had just arrived for work and were putting on their makeup. I was about to walk right back out, but then Elder Janolgue walked up to the front counter and requested that our hairdresser not be bakla. So we ended up getting our hair cut by the only straight guy in the salon. He did a really good job. The music was really loud in there, and while they were blasting some Michael Jackson I looked up from my chair and saw two baklas, outside on their break, dancing. I couldn’t handle it anymore – I just started laughing. It was just too funny to see those guys, dressed like salon girls, dancing to Michael Jackson. Thankfully everyone in the salon had a sense of humor.

New Years here was a gong show. I found out recently that fireworks are actually illegal here, which is funny because it sounded like D-Day outside of our apartment all night on New Years. EVERYONE was launching off fireworks. All of the little kids here are carrying around these little firecrackers that are super loud. They love to set them off nonchalantly and then laugh at the people that get scared by them. It’s pretty funny, but it can get annoying sometimes when it is five in the morning and it sounds like there’s a WWII sniper on your roof. My plan for New Years Eve was to just take it easy, write a letter, and go to bed, but we ended up just eating a lot of food. Our landlady brought us two huge plates of spaghetti and a plate of palabok (another pasta thing)…which was an addition to the 1 kilo of pork adobo, rice cake, graham cake, and American treats from Elder Olsen that we ate. Around 1:00 AM, when most of the big fireworks were done, she brought us more cake and fruit salad. I felt so sick. I was also a little big angry because I just wanted to sleep, haha. It was still a pretty fun New Years, I guess.

The work this week was pretty good. On New Years day we went out to a new area, which is about 4 kilometers away, to visit a less active sister in the Branch. She was really happy to see us, and introduced us to all of her neighbors. It was good – we were able to talk to a lot of people there about the gospel. We are hoping to get some new investigators over there soon. The problem is: we can only visit that area in the daytime, because it dangerous at night (robbers, addicts, and the like), so our time there is pretty limited. It is only about a kilometer away from tutuloy though, which is where the Arguesa family lives. I think I mentioned them during our skype visit – they are close with all of the missionaries, and they feed us twice a week. Sister Arguesa is like my mom here in Cuyapo, haha. Their oldest daughter is actually leaving on her mission to Mindanao in a couple of weeks.

I also led the area for the first time this week. We had exchanges, and my zone leader from England – Elder Biggs – came to Cuyapo and we worked together. It was a great learning experience for me. I learned that it is important to be bold and always extend commitments to the investigators. It made me think a lot about the purpose of missionary work, which is to bring people closer to Christ and help them find the correct ordinances to help them return to our Father in Heaven. My goal for the New Year is to become bolder (and to exercise more). Elder Biggs and I visited Brother Rey and his family, and helped him and his wife pick a day for marriage. They are going to be married on February 1. We also gave a baptismal date to Sister Cherry (his wife) and we are excited to help them begin the process of preparing to be sealed in the temple. It was a really good day. Elder Biggs said that there is a chance that I might be pregnant (training next transfer)…which scares me a lot. Just so you aren’t confused by the word ‘pregnant’, I’ll explain how it all works: When you enter the mission here, you are ‘born’. I was born in Cuyapo. Your trainer is your ‘tatay’(papa) and if you have a trainee, they are your ‘anak’ (child). If you are about to train, you are ‘pregnant’, haha. The slang terms we use make it easier to trace your genealogy in the mission. I’ve already met my grandfather in the mission, and my great grandpa in the mission is out there somewhere too.

Yesterday was just a great day. We were both fasting, and there were a lot of great testimonies born in the branch. After church, we finally had a PEC meeting with the Branch President, and we were able to make some good plans to help the work in the branch. It was nice to finally see some progress on the branch end of things, and we are excited to finally have some branch missionaries (Brother Louie will probably be the new BML). After our meeting, we went out and worked with Brother Agustin (the 2nd counselor in the branch). We went out and visited Tatay Francisco Temporal. I  mentioned him before in one of my emails…he used to be the 2nd counselor in the branch way back, and he is currently inactive and has some issues with smoking. We’ve met with him four times now, and until yesterday we didn’t really think he was progressing. He told us before that he would not return to church unless his family was baptized (we’re working on that too). When we brought Bro. Agustin with us, it made such a huge difference. We taught from Mosiah 2:41 about the temporal and spiritual blessing that we receive as we follow the commandments of God, and we all bore our testimonies and extended another invitation for him to return to the church and quit smoking and drinking. The spirit was strong, and we could see tears welling up in this brother’s eyes as Brother Agustin explained that, as a branch, and as brothers in the church, we love him and are eager to help him in his return. It was powerful to see these two brothers in the gospel embrace at the end of the lesson. We are grateful that we were able to work with Brother Agustin. As we walked away from the home of Tatay Francisco, I noticed something incredible. All of the exhaustion and weakness that I had been feeling before as a result of fasting was gone. I felt light on my feet, and I had a lot of energy. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was a really good feeling and I’m grateful to have experienced it. We’re excited to help this brother come back to church.

We were able to fast right up until eight o’ clock in the evening last night, and then the three of us ate a whole roasted chicken (from Chooks to Go) , 10 servings of rice (lots), ¼ of a watermelon that I kept in the fridge, and 1 liter of sprite. We were pretty hungry. I am actually still pretty full today, and I’ve only eaten a small snack.

That’s my big story for the week. I am doing pretty good, and am healthy (other than the 15 pounds I probably gained last night).

I need to give you all the new mission office address (the one before was wrong) this one is absolutely correct, so it should work if any of you want to send stuff. 

New Mission Office:
Philippines Angeles Mission Office
F. Tañedo Street, Barangay San Nicolas
Tarlac City, Tarlac 2300

Thank you all for your Dear Elders and stuff. They take quite a while to get here sometimes because of the pouch, but I am very grateful for them. I’ll try and reply to them more next week.
I’ll also hopefully have more pictures next week (I didn’t really take any this week).

Also, quick story for dad: We were way far away from our house (4-5 km) and I saw a guy selling fresh watermelons on the side of the road. We talked to him about the church, and gave him a pamphlet. It was really hot outside and I was hungry, and the watermelons started looking really good. So I bought one for about 1.75 and tossed into my backpack despite the protests of my companion. Anyways, I'm proud to say that I walked around for four hours with that thing in my pack, and that the pain I experienced in my back for the next couple of days was well worth it. That watermelon was so good, haha. It kind of reminded me of our hiking trips, where everyone would pack really light, and then all of a sudden somebody would pull out a 6 pound bag of almonds or two kilos of Jujubes that they'd been hauling around for days.


I love you all,
Being a missionary is great.
- Love, Jared.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

 The sky does some crazy things here...it is absolutely beautiful some nights. 
 A funny little kid...he reminded me of Jarom, haha. 
 The front of our house...our house is actually on our landlord's property, which is fenced and gated, so we are very safe from thieves/kidnappers and such. The window to the left of the picture is part of our landlord's tindahan (store). 
 Trike! We ride in one of these things four or five times a week. Sometimes they can fit like 6-7 people in one of them, haha. 
  Getting ready to go Secret Santa with Brother Louie.
 Some of the Stuff that we put in the smaller packages (Five of the bigger ones had a whole chicken in them too...as well as milk powder and other supplies)
Pogi pa rin at handa na umalis. (still handsome and ready to leave)

 Again, ready to leave 
 magandang langit (beautiful sky)
 One of the magnificent sunsets that I get to see every day. 
 Some of the Christmas Decorations at Town Hall

 Baby Ducks! It's funny, I've eaten one of those already...it just wasn't out of the shell yet, haha. 
 Elder Janolgue licking one of those worms (his tongue isn't actually touching it...don't worry)
You’ve probably heard of Rhinoceros beetles…these worms eventually turn into them. 

Dear Family,

This week started out tough but has become considerably better since. It was great to be able to see you all and talk to you over Skype. I was shocked at first because of how white everybody looked, and when Grandpa said it was -24 outside I just couldn’t comprehend it. Couch coat or no couch coat…I think I would probably freeze to death in that kind of weather now. It’s amazing how the human body can adapt so quickly to different climates. You all look great and it only made me a little bit homesick talking to you, haha.

Today is New Years Eve here. I can kind of relate to dad when he said that New Years in Japan was a huge deal, and bigger than Christmas. I guess the thing about Christmas here, is that not everyone can afford to celebrate it, but all they need for new years is some fireworks, which are everywhere and super cheap here. I am told that the countdown to the new year is spectacular here…all of the trike drivers rev their engines really loud, and everyone sets off fireworks all over the towns and blasts music. People crowd the streets and parties are everywhere. Consequently…we will be in our house by 6 pm and will celebrate the coming of 2013 with our portable DVD player, a copy of the Testaments, and some chicken adobo and rice (and graham cake – I will send a recipe soon…so good, haha). Two of the Elders from Anao (Elder Olsen and Elder Espinosa) are coming to our apartment, so it will hopefully be a good time. We might even see some fireworks if we open our windows, haha.

It has been very difficult to find people that will listen to us here in Cuyapo. I don’t know why, but it seems like almost everyone has been taught already by the missionaries, or they are just not interested. We have six investigators with baptismal goal dates , but none of them are coming to church (in order to be baptized here, people need to attend church for four consecutive weeks). To make things worse, we saw one of them smoking yesterday (we thought he had quit a long time ago), which made us kind of depressed. We have been eternally extending their baptismal dates for the last two months, and it seems like none of them are progressing. We have been trying really hard this week to find some new people to teach, and it’s been interesting. We had a lesson a few days ago with a young mother that we had OYMed before, but we ended up leaving halfway through because her neighbors wouldn’t turn down their stereo (it is hard to feel the spirit when Quiet Riot is blasting through your head). That was really frustrating. We did have a really good lesson this week with a Nanay. We were teaching her about the Restoration, and while we were talking her 20 year old daughter and one of her cousins came in and sat down too. They are all devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they were very open and polite and had a lot of questions. It was the best lesson we’ve had in a long time, and I’m really excited to go back. The nanay’s (mom’s) name is Naomi, and her daughter’s name is Princess. The cousin is named April. You might think the name Princess is odd, but it is much more normal than Precious and Cinderella, which are also quite common here, haha.

On a weird cultural note: Here, it is not weird for women to marry someone a lot older than them. A lot of the women we teach are around my age, and it is pretty normal for them to be married to a man who is almost 30, and have two or three kids already. A lot of old American men come here to get young wives...especially retired military guys. We taught a lesson to a girl, she was 20 and married to a 54 year old man who worked on and off in California. The weirdest thing I’ve seen though regarding age gaps in marriage (I might have told you this already) was a Nanay that we taught – she is 65 years old, and her husband is 32. I couldn’t really figure that one out, haha. At least the YSA culture will be easy to accept for a lot of people here, haha.
We didn’t get to teach Brother Oliveros this week, which is too bad. Sister Oliveros is working in Manila right now, so he wasn’t around when we went to their house. He is very shy, and I think it is hard for him to come to church and meet with us if his wife isn’t with him. We are trying to get a fellowshipper for him to help with that, but it is hard because there are only 6 or 7 active Elders/High Priests in the Branch. We ended up teaching their two sons, and afterwards they took us out back and showed us these huge worms that live in rotten palm trees. You’ve probably heard of Rhinoceros beetles…these worms eventually turn into them, haha. They are apparently really tasty if you fry them up (quite a few people I’ve talked to you have eaten them…I don’t think I can do it though). Anyways, we followed Brother Lybbert’s advice and strapped a firecracker to one. The resulting explosion was fantastic…but we didn’t think about the splatter zone and some of the worm ended hitting us. We haven’t been able to catch a cockroach and blow it up yet, but I am excited for that, haha. (See pictures for the worms)

Church this week was good. Our attendance went up to 60 this week and a lot of less actives actually turned up. It helped me feel a little bit better about the week. I am so grateful to be able to play the ‘organ’ (keyboard) in sacrament meeting…the singing here is less than melodious, but I still feel a good spirit as everyone sings the hymns together. We also planned a youth activity this week (we are going to hike one of the mountains here…I’m pumped) which will hopefully attract a lot of the less active youth and get them fired up about church stuff again. The new church building will be finished in April, and I will probably still be here to see it. I am excited for that, and for the progress that this branch will be making in the future. The work is hard, but there is so much potential here.

It makes me kind of sad…Elder Janolgue only has a couple more weeks left, and then he will be transferred. He has been a great companion and trainer. I hope that I don’t have to train next transfer (it happens a lot actually), because I am definitely not ready. It will be interesting to have to lead the area. I am nervous and excited at the same time.

Your Christmas sounds like it was fantastic, and I’m so happy that it was a good one. It was a good one for me too, and it gave me an opportunity to think about the Savior and about the real purpose of Christmas.

I love you all,

Thank you for all that you do for me.
Love, Jared.

Week 8 Philippines Christmas Season

 Brother Rey and one of of his kids (in his house)

 One of the games (build your own Christmas tree). From the Christmas Conference last week. 
                                              Me and Elder Janolgue (he was the tree for our zone)
 Snow! It wasn't really snow though. 
 Mga Pogi (but not really). I'll tell you about my interesting haircut in the letter. 
Three Generations. Me, my Tatay (Father - what trainees call their trainers) and my Lolo (Grandpa - the missionary that trained my trainer).

Throwing snow (Elder Biggs, my Zone Leader from England, is the subject of the picture)

 Package! Yes, I got it! I was so excited. I will write more in the email. 

 Corn, as far as the eye can see. 

 Some people we OYMed in a field. Super nice...I forget their names though. We will probably visit them again soon. 

 Kid on a haystack. They were doing tricks on it, but they got shy when I tried to film them tumbling. 

 I am on the bottom of a bridge in this picture. We got stuck in one of the Bukids (we couldn't find a way to cross the canal) so we ended up climbing up this small bridge to get out. 

 Branch Christmas Party!

                                                           The Cuyapo Branch!

 Dinner at the Oliveros home. The vegetable is called Malunggay, and is apparently one of the healthiest things on earth, you eat it by pulling it apart with your hands and scraping the mush inside out with your teeth.

 There was also a big catfish thing which tasted delicious. There was a lot of salty spice-type stuff inside of it that tasted good, and when I asked sister Oliveros what it was, she told me, "There aren't any spices...I think those are it's eggs." Oh. I still ate them though, haha. 

You have to see the fish close up. 

Dear Family,

It’s been a good Christmas week. I know that it isn’t actually Christmas, but for me, it has already happened, haha. We had the Christmas conference on Wednesday for the West Side of the mission, and it was great. We started out by playing some Christmas games, and then went outside and threw fake snow around for a while (Sister Martino wanted us to have a white Christmas). Then we had lunch – Chicken and rice (big surprise there, haha) – and it was delicious. We then had workshops from both the AP’s and President and Sister Martino, which were fantastic, and we ended the whole thing with President Martino reading us a Christmas Story. I can honestly say it was one of the best Christmases I've ever had. As we talked about the Savior and the real meaning of Christmas, the spirit was really strong and there may have even been some tears (from other people of course). I was thinking a lot about all of you back home and I want you to know that I love you.

So I did what was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life this week – we went and got haircuts. The thing about getting a haircut here in the Philippines is, you can either go to a nice salon, and have a bakla (gay guy – they dress like women here, and are VERY flamboyant and unashamed to show that they are gay, to put it appropriately) do a really good job with your hair, or go to a sketchy barber shop in the marketplace and pay 30 pesos to sit in a chair full of hair clippings and have some guy with old, rusty scissors give you a 5 minute haircut (they are really efficient) while you stare at the floor and try to avoid the saucy Avril Lavigne posters on the walls. Of course, we chose the market, haha.  The haircut I got was atrocious (we went to the discount place…it was only 25 pesos). It looked like a mushroom cut, and I couldn't stand to look at myself. I thought…”If I could just trim the sides a little bit, it would look alright.” So I did, and I didn't think it looked too bad, until Elder Janolgue came out of the shower and saw me standing there with the scissors in my hand. He yelled, “Elder! Ano ang nayari sa buhok mo?! (What happened to your hair).” And yeah…I looked again and it was pretty bad.
So, if you wondering why I look so pangit (ugly) in these last pictures, that is why, haha.
Anyways, now that I explained that…

This week has been pretty busy with Christmas things, and as a result the work has been difficult. We have a lot of investigators members that are away on vacation or always at Christmas Parties. The streets are literally empty in a lot of places because everyone is inside celebrating. You were right…the Philippines is the happiest place on earth for Christmas. We were talking with some of our families that we teach, and we asked a few of them if they were excited for Christmas. They responded that, yes, they were very excited. We then asked them what their plans were for Christmas Dinner, and they told us, “Wala na.” (None). A lot of them can’t even afford to buy meat for a small Christmas dinner, but they are all so excited for Christmas and to be able to celebrate. We have been teaching a lot of Christmas messages, and I was actually able to give a talk on Sunday about Christmas, and it’s hit me that these people seem to know more about why Christmas is important than anyone else I’ve ever met.

We also had the long-discussed branch Christmas party this week. Elder Janolgue and I ate before we went, which was a bad idea, because as soon as we got there the members all wanted us to try the different dishes that they brought. We told them we weren't hungry, and told them we’d try their food later, but they brought us huge plates and literally would not let us abstain from eating. I got a huge dirt clod in my first bite of rice (it wasn’t cleaned very well), and it kind of ruined the rest of the plate for me, haha. There were quite a few people that came out (people that I didn't even know were in the Branch) and a few of them brought non-member friends that we got to know. There were probably 90 people there at one point, which would be great to have in sacrament meeting too – we usually have around 40 or 50. (Maybe if every sacrament meeting was a potluck, all the members would actually show up, haha).  Everyone had a good time…there was a lot of games, and a few of the relief society sisters put on a hip-hop dancing routine for everyone which was…unique. The stake president also came and shared a message with everyone, which was good. Overall, a success as far as Christmas parties go. On a side-note, it’s nice to be able to have Sunday school again, haha.

We didn’t have a lot of lessons this week because most of our investigators weren’t around and the people on the streets were all too busy partying and doing Christmas things to listen to us. We did teach the Oliveros family again on Saturday. Brother Oliveros is doing so good – he is working really hard on overcoming his addiction to cigarettes, and he has been progressing every day with that. He went three whole days without smoking this week! We gave him a baptismal date in January. I am excited to be one of the missionaries that gets to help him reach that goal and get started on the next goal, which is the temple. They are such an amazing family and I look up to Brother Oliveros for his strength and desire to do what is right. They also wanted me to send you some pictures of the lunch they fed us, haha.

I got your package this week! I was thinking about waiting until Christmas to open it…but I couldn’t do it. I have already given all of the candy away to the kids here, and they were so happy to get it. I had to be careful how much I handed out, because there would be huge swarms of angry kids if someone got two and others only got one, haha. I saved all of the chocolate in our fridge (it will melt in a couple of seconds if it isn’t in the fridge) and I gave some to our landlord and his wife (they are so so nice) and a couple of almond joys to out washing lady (she washes our clothes). It was really funny, because our washing lady is 76-77ish and she only has a few teeth, but when I asked her if she wanted some chocolate, her eyes lit up and she quickly took a few almond joys. She is so funny, and she and Elder Janolgue are always scaring each other and playing practical jokes. She is a member, and really active in the branch and we teach two of her granddaughters who are less active.

Anyways, thank you all so much for the package and for the letters and stuff inside. Elder Janolgue was happy about the beef jerky (he loves it) so I let him eat most of it. I’ve been enjoying the healthy snacks a lot, and have been rationing them out daily. I’ve probably even gained some weight from eating something other than rice, haha.

I love you all, thank you so much for the package and for all of your love.
Love, Jared.