Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30, 2014-- Email #36

June 30, 2014
Santiago, Philippines

Dear Family,

"For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation..." D&C 128:15

In this scripture, the Prophet Joseph Smith is counseling the saints about baptisms for the dead, and it has to do with our work in the temple for family members and others who have passed away without receiving those saving ordinances under proper authority.

However, this week, I found it took on a new meaning for me.

Elder Espanto is a very humble man. Despite being 20 years old, he hasn't really done a whole lot of growing up yet, and I feel as though I'm quite literally doing parenting rather than missionary training. That happens a lot here in this country, though. The culture here is that where you are born is where you should die, most of the time meaning literally in the same house. Many people never move away from their parents here. They think it quite the oddity that in the United States, children are almost expected to be out of the house no later than college. With that as their culture, you come to find that a lot of people have grown older but haven't really left the nest yet; haven't learned to fly because they never really needed to. Elder Espanto hasn't had the opportunity to learn a lot of basic things that seem really obvious to me but are not quite obvious to him. Let it be said today, that I have grown to appreciate parents on a whole new level. 

On Tuesday night, Henry started cooking dinner at Rusell's house and we all were talking as we waited, except for Elder Espanto. He was sitting outside and resisted invitations to come in. Even when dinner was ready, he refused to eat, or to talk. He was really shut down on us. I told him I wasn't going to eat if he didn't, and then he really unconvincingly pretended he was going to throw up. It was pretty evident he was in dire need of attention, and was having a bit of an emotional tantrum. I tried to talk it out with him, along with Rusell, Henry, and Jethro, but he continued to not speak that night and into the following morning. 

As we began our companion study, I asked him again what seemed to be the problem. He then said he was stressed. We looked over the "Adjusting to Missionary Life" manual a bit but he still didn't want to divulge details. I told him to write his stresses down on a paper, and then to write down blessings we have experienced as a way to counter-act them. After that, he finally told me he was stressed that the ward didn't start their meetings on time, and that he feels we were wasting time "we could have been spending on saving souls". His complaints seemed pretty irrational as to time management. After he was done, I told him very frankly that he could not, and could never in this life, be perfect, and that was never the purpose of this life. The purpose of this life is to learn and to grow midst all of this conflict, that we may be refined to perfection, return to our Father in Heaven, being cleansed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, who suffered everything for us. I told him about the miracles that had come to us, and the enormous amount of fellow-shippers we had available to us. After I finished saying this, he turned on "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" on the speakers, buried his head in his arms, and cried.  

He continued crying for about 30 minutes. At that time, I looked over at my scriptures and almost instinctively flipped to a random page, which turned out to be the verse I stated earlier. That's when it really hit me. "For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation..." In other words, Elder Espanto's salvation is necessary and essential to my salvation. If I can't love him, help him, forgive him, and have patience with him, pleading daily with my Father that I could at least feel a fraction of the love He has for him, then how on earth can I teach him to be an effective missionary, and how on earth could I be guiltless before God?

Can I just shake your computer screens right now, please, to let you know how important this is!? Isn't this what Jesus has taught us all along!? Love one another! Feed my sheep! There is no way, no way at all, for us to show our love for our God without loving those that are the hardest to love! Love your enemies, those that despise you, hate you, think you're wrong, think you're not good enough. They are the ones that are more important to love. Love is what makes God's plan perfect. And you cannot, in any way, expect that if you go on in spiteful thinking towards others that you can be guiltless before God. Their salvation is necessary and essential to ours. And to quote Jeffrey R. Holland: "Salvation is not a cheap experience"  

It's just frustrating that I can't find the right words to say. That's why we should go to God, in prayer, praying for the Spirit to enlighten our minds, and to give us charity. Without it, we are nothing. And without the Spirit, we won't know why.

I testify of Jesus Christ, that he is our Savior, and that he leads this Church as he has in days of old. In His name, even Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 22, 2014-- Email #35

June 22, 2014
Santiago, Philippines

Hello Family!

This week was full of miracles. It has been more than incredible to see the changes in peoples lives from the gospel. It truly is from small and simple means, and the Lord is hastening His work. If only I could just reach into my heart and give you all of those things I've felt this week. But, alas, I have no choice but to resort to words once again.

A few weeks ago we were walking down a road to one of our appointments. We noticed a small side-road we hadn't taken before and felt prompted to check it out. We ended up meeting Rodolfo Nolasco, who just moved from Manila a year ago. He suffered from a stroke many years ago, and consequently cannot work due to mobility problems in his leg and arm. His wife is still working in Manila and his kids are either moved out or at school for long hours. When we started teaching him, we weren't really sure it would amount to anything big. When we returned for our next appointment, however, he had read the entirety of the Restoration pamphlet we had given him, and had many questions that signified a genuine interest to join. When we explained the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith, he understood quickly the message, and his prayers at the end of lessons were truly heartfelt. His relationship with God, we could tell, was strengthening, and consequentially, the truth became clearer. We gave him a Book of Mormon, and within one week of reading, he is now in the middle of 2 Nephi! He's come to church twice now, accompanied by President Mesde, and is always eager for our return visits. We've invited him to be baptized on July 19, which he accepted. 

If that's not a miracle, I don't know what is. 

On Saturday, as we were taking a shortcut to the Calao Bridge down by the river, we ran into a former investigator who had become very busy and hadn't been taught in probably 4 months. We've run into her many instances before, but the answer was always the same: "Nope, too busy, maybe next time." Randomly (or not so randomly), however, on Saturday afternoon, she told us we could come teach her on Sunday afternoon. We were a bit taken back that she gave us a specific time to come back and teach her, after the many other times she had turned us, and past missionaries, down. Yesterday, as we gathered for the lesson, we found out she hadn't really absorbed anything from past lessons she had had, and wasn't even given a Book of Mormon. However, when the lesson began, the Spirit really took over, and we all bore testimony that Christ runs this church today, and that the fullness of the gospel blesses us beyond that which we could imagine. We also bore testimony that in any other church, she would find something lacking, but that in this church, she would find the Everlasting Gospel, which if we partake of, we will never hunger nor thirst for the words of the true and living God. After the lesson, she basically asked us how soon she could be baptized. We explained the requirements, she explained that she was willing to change her life for the gospel, and it looks like she's goaled herself for the end of July to be baptized. 

If that's not a miracle as well, then I really don't know what I'm talking about.

This is what I'd like to stress to you about these miracles. Obedience. Obedience to the commandments we have been given. Obedience is the medium through which the Spirit can be felt. If there is any other medium present, you're relying on your own knowledge. Obedience can bring blessings, but being exactly obedient brings miracles. And we need miracles. These dear people deserve miracles. They are children of God. All of us. They don't need a hollow sermon about faith. If that's all we can offer, than we are sleeping through the restoration. It reads in Mormon 9:10-11, "And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are." He's called upon the weak things of the world to show forth this power, so I know if we can do our best, however insignificant we may think it is, he will bring us miracles, peoples lives will change for the better, and we will all come unto the living Christ.

Prayer is very powerful. This is how we communicate with our Father. However far away he may be, we remember how we felt in His presence long ago when we converse with him in our quiet places. Inviting people to pray during lessons can be just about the most powerful thing you can do for them to experience the Spirit, as they converse with their Heavenly Father. Even if it's small, or long, or they can't find the perfect words to say, they always feel the presence of the Spirit, and that God truly is there for them, and that the Spirit will let them know what is true and what is ere. 

This is what I leave for you this week. Continue in what you know is true. For the truth is of God, and it is what we must cleave to. I leave this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

P.S. Jethro drove us home in a tricee last night and he kept on killing the clutch and it was super funny. Anyways. You had to be there.

Monday, June 16, 2014

June 15, 2014-- Email #34

June 15, 2014
Sangiago, Philippines

Sa Aking Pamilya, Mabuhay at Magandang Umaga sa Inyong Lahat!
trans. "To my family, greetings and good morning to you all!"

Well, this week has been pretty crazy. So for this email, I'll just go ahead and break it down for you all. I'll start... From the beginning.

On Monday night, we decided to go give a Restoration message to one of our returning less-active families in the ward, the Ianeta family. We started the lesson out by asking them to relate their conversion story. It was amazing, and full of experiences concerning the power of prayer. Brother's faith was super strong when it came to him being sure his prayers are always answered. You could tell they both knew for themselves. They also related the strength they receive by keeping their temple covenants, specifically mentioning that wearing the temple garment has kept them safe from danger and weariness without fail. After their story, we watched the Restoration DVD, featuring the Joseph Smith story. Considering the Spirit that was already present, the message of the Restoration hit into our hearts powerfully, in a way none of us were expecting, and there wasn't a dry eye in the place. It was such a beautiful experience, receiving witness together that the church is true, and I'll never forget it. After the lesson, Sister came up to me expressing her gratitude again for the Spirit. I then asked her for referrals, and let me tell you, asking for referrals means a whole lot more after an experience like that. I nearly choked up just saying it: "who do you know that would be interested in this message?" Who do we know who could benefit from feeling like we did, in their homes, in their lives, through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? I think we can come up with a long list! Give it to the missionaries!

On Tuesday, I had splits with Elder Monilla again, but this time he came to our area. We had an awesome time again. We were talking with our recent convert, sister Corazon, about how life is for Elder Monilla in Saudi Arabia. The middle east is insane, needless to say. Islamic law, bombs... you know, the works. He tells us that Jeffrey R. Holland visited their ward one day in their hidden underground church, and he called on Elder Monilla to bear his testimony! Whether it's a chapel with a basketball court in Happy Valley Utah, or the basement of a mansion, complete with indoor swimming pool, in the Islamic country of Saudi Arabia, we have members with burning testimonies of the truthfulness of this church, and our duty within it. Speaking of which, Sister Corazon is doing amazing! Reteaching the lessons for her has been more of her teaching us. She's been finding so many amazing things in the Book of Mormon, and has received the clearest insight; typical of someone who is keeping their covenants after receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. It's crazy how tangible that gift is, when you are observing it in work.

I received some great insight this week again about how the gospel helps us improve upon our talents. The gospel is an instrument for us to achieve our dreams, however big they may be. The gospel helps us from selling our full potential for fleeting desires. It really all makes sense when you put it in that perspective... The parable of the talents, progression being one eternal round, repentance and the Atonement helping us overcome challenges... It is all built up for us to achieve our dreams. It is so personally tailored for all of us! 

Elder Delaney had been going through some troubles with his companion, Elder Almaras, and it all sort of exploded yesterday after church. I don't feel it appropriate to go into details, but from what I have observed, I think Elder Almaras has a form of Bi-Polar Disorder, and he hit a mental breaking point yesterday which seemed familiar to things I've seen before. It's been kind of crazy here as of late. Pray for his well being. He's gone into a very dark place. The apartment had a seriously dark spirit in it yesterday. We got rid of that with a little prayer and cleaning with Jethro, Rusell, and Henry, but I fear the problem is far from being solved. Here's hoping it will all end well.

We've met a lot of new investigators this week who have been progressing miraculously fast! It has been such an amazing blessing to be apart of. I'll tell you about them next week, as we seem to be short of time now. The work is hastening, and will boldly go forth. Are you sleeping through the restoration? Well, wake up and do something more than dream of your mansions above. Doing good is a pleasure, a joy without measure, a blessing of duty and love. Keep the Spirit in your life. It is a miraculous companion, and will give you opportunities to do great things if you are ready for them and know how to listen. Take advantage of it! I love you all, and pray for your continual success in this great work, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

P.S. Oh, I totally jammed out on the piano with the other Stake President to Wasted Time by the Eagles yesterday. That was a thing. It was awesome.

Monday, June 9, 2014

June 8, 2014-- Email #33

June 8, 2014
Santiago, Philippines

Happy Fathers Day!

Let me respond to some of the things happening over there first. 

Tell Dad I love him and am so grateful for his example to me. He really taught me how to work hard, and more importantly, to do it well. I learned from him that whether it was mowing lawns or playing the guitar, the job ought to be done right. He also taught me to not look sideways in life, at what others are doing, but rather to look ahead. Thank you so much Dad!

I hope Grandma is doing alright. It makes me sad to picture her in such a fragile condition right now. Let her know I love her and am grateful for her. I think of her every time I put on those two ties she sent me. They are legitimately my favorite ties, no joking there. 

Tanner's going to Hong Kong!? That's just, like, next door to Luzon! That's so awesome, he will do great! I remember him talking about how his teacher said he was so good at Chinese simply because he would make fun of the accent accurately. He's definitely going to be supplying a lot of laughs for the multi-cultural metropolis of Hong Kong. What an adventure.

There have been so many truly tangible blessings here this week. It has made me appreciate more what it really means to be blessed, and what a "blessing" really is. Perhaps I'll count them off for you; name them one by one.

One: Delicious Food and Amazing Friends
After long days at work this week, it wasn't an uncommon occurrence to get a text from Brother Henry saying that we'd meet at Rusell's house and cook up some Filipino food. Brother Henry has informed me that in high school, he was infamous among his friends for his "magic"; that is, he could make something delicious from any random array of ingredients in the fridge. So, I got to partake of some of Henry's "magic" this week, which was absolutely delicious. Henry, Jethro, and Rusell have become some of my dearest friends in the world at this point. Whenever we're together, whether at work or at dinner, we always have an amazing time. We've had conversations that leave us laughing in tears and others that build faith in each of our testimonies of this work. It seems crazy I've only been in this area for 8 weeks, and that I have a minimum of 10 more to go. Needless to say, it is amazing to eat amazing Filipino food, among amazing Filipino friends, speaking a language I'd never heard of before receiving my mission call, in a place in the world that has come from obscurity to now such a deeply ingrained place in my heart.

Two: People Prepared for the Gospel
This week we've acquired a multitude of new investigators in our teaching pool, as referred by formerly less-active families. The Alialy Family is one of them. They were baptized a few years ago by my Great-Grandfather in the mission, Elder Landeen(He trained Elder Garcia, who trained Elder Manabo, who trained me). After a year of going strong in the church, and even being sealed as a family, the father became heavily involved with work on Sundays, and they fell into inactivity. For some reason, after Elder Espanto arrived here, everything seems to have fallen in place for them. Our first lesson with them as a companionship, the father's exact words to us were "kahit nauulan, bumabagyo, magsisimba kami", or, "even if it's raining, storming, we will come to church." And they indeed came. After which, they introduced us to their neighbors, who are actually their in-laws, and we've begun teaching two of their daughters who have baptismal dates now in July. It's incredible how the Lord prepares people like this. It really isn't our work. It's His, and we're here to invite His Spirit, and to witness the change it brings in peoples hearts. 

Three: Never Giving Up
We got to work with President Mesde yesterday, doing some tracting in a part of our area, St James. He's one of the Presidents here in the stake. We visited a lot of former investigators he knew, and he introduced us to many people that, for some reason or another, the missionaries before had dropped. His drive to share the gospel, not fearing what his friends might think of him, or what criticisms may arise, was truly inspirational. Earlier that day, he had mentioned only being able to work til 5 PM, considering he had a meeting at that time. I noticed, however, the time for the meeting came and past, and he continued to work with us. He mentioned it later to us that evening, over dinner. He said it was far more important for him to be working with the missionaries that day than to attend an important meeting. He then told us that for seven years after he had been baptized, he was completely inactive. He would hide when missionaries came to his door. He didn't want anything to do with them or the church. But he expressed it was important that they never gave up on him. Because they never gave up on him, he eventually became active again, and now has served as Branch President, Bishop, and Stake President. That would have never happened if the missionaries had thought, "Oh, it's no use. He's just another inactive member that won't amount to much." And that is why we will never give up on these people as well. Neither should you give up on yourself. Never.

To quote Kara's favorite song, which is also Rusell's favorite song and artist: "I won't give up on us, even if the skies are rough, I'm giving you all my love, I'm still looking up."

Four: Miracles Happen Sometimes
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but for some reason or another, Jethro's parents have always had a bit of a quarrel with the church. They are not members, and know very little about the church their son attends so regularly and actively. It's also near impossible to find a time to teach them anything, considering his father is almost always drunk, and his mother is very busy with two younger siblings. With the enormous amounts of missionaries that have come through this area, not a single one of them has been able to teach Jethro's whole family, considering all of these conflicts. Except for yesterday. Along with President Mesde and another member from across the street, things fell into place that we were able to share with them a very simple, yet well overdue lesson about God being our loving Heavenly Father, and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bless families. They were both very receptive, and I hope this is the beginning of something truly great for their family. Jethro's dad is super smart and talented, but it is always hidden behind his alcoholism. He is definitely in need of something to bring him in line with his full potential, as a son of God, and an effective father for his family. I was able to express to him that their son's testimony of the Savior is beautifully strong, and that he didn't obtain it from a well-paid preacher, or a book, but from the power of the Holy Ghost, and that these things do not come from man. 

Thus, the work moves on. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

Monday, June 2, 2014

June 1, 2014-- Email #32

June 1, 2014
Santiago, Philippines

Hello Everyone!

Well, just another fun week in the Philippines. School's out for you guys, but school just started for them here. Haha. Their school-year is June until March. They also usually enter college at an earlier age, with significantly lower costs. Schooling from Elementary to High School is far more expensive than College here. Kinda weird. But hey, they also enjoy eating duck fetus, so I guess in comparison it's not that high up on the weird scale.

At district meeting, two of the sisters had a bit of a dispute as to who was Elder Espanto's mission mother, or my mission wife. Traditionally, the oldest Sister in the district, when a missionary enters the field, is the Mission mother, and the mission wife of the one training him. It turns out, however, that Sister Maestrado had convinced me it was actually the Sister Training Leader who is the true mission wife. I found out she'd been lying to me, saying she was my mission wife, when in reality Sister Guttenbeil was my real wife. They then proceeded to reenact a similar scene from one of the soap opera's here, "The Legal Wife", complete with dramatic yelling and slapping. It was hilarious. I love all the missionaries in this Zone, we've grown really close as of late. 

I got sick again on Wednesday. It was super weird, though. I didn't really have a fever or anything, and I was drinking water, but my stomach refused to hold down food. It passed after a day though, with prayer and Digestzen. I lost weight, again. Super annoying. I don't know whether I'll be obese or anorexic by the time I come home, considering how much my weight fluctuates. That's just how things work here.

This Sunday we had another Ward Rescue Caravan. It was another great turnout and we reached a ton of people. We got to contact several new less-active members as well. Again, I say, members are the best missionaries! That's why it repeatedly says in Preach my Gospel they are an essential part of the conversion process. Not just a "Oh yeah, it would be nice if there was member help every now and then", no. It is essential. It doesn't work without you. Missionaries get transferred, go home, etc. Members don't. Members are always there, and should understand how they must feel, and what steps they must take, to be involved in the conversion process. Thank you again for all of your efforts!

I've gotta say, planning and preparing for lessons becomes a whole different story when you're training. Elder Espanto has a lot of patience and love for me, which he definitely deserves from me in return. At times I'm pretty merciless in correcting him during our role-plays and such, but I'm always sure to compliment him and give gratitude afterwards. My focus has been on loving him more. Sometimes it's hard for me to not criticize him, but it is always worth it. I know if ever I'm having negative thoughts take over during teaching, or even planning, the Spirit has no room to do its teaching. And then we kinda lose the whole picture. He has helped me so instrumentally, though. Just from my desire to be a better example for him, I've become a much better missionary. As usual, though, whenever you step up a level, you realize how far you have to go to get to the next level. I'm glad we're making all of these steps to grow now, rather than later. 

This week we focused on inviting investigators to be baptized earlier on than later. We've seen how much it helps. We now have three more investigators with baptismal dates in June, or early July. Considering baptism is the first of the saving ordinances, it becomes way easier to teach after inviting to baptism, simply because there is a goal to reach of great importance. All of the lessons, no matter what they are about, all of a sudden fall in line with how it can help them prepare to follow Jesus Christ into the waters of baptism, and all of the commitments and commandments gain a far clearer purpose and meaning. For all those preparing to serve missions, invite to baptism early. Don't be afraid of rejection; you are a servant of the true and living God. Your purpose is not to save the world, it is to invite them to come unto Christ, which is the only name under which we can be saved. 

Speaking of which, this week I also realized again how incredible this church is in enabling others to know and believe in Christ. We've been engaged in many conversations with investigators, discussing the big differences between our church and their churches. It then becomes apparent that this church will bring an individual closer to Christ than any other church could. For one, we have an additional testament of Jesus Christ contained in the Book of Mormon. For another, we have a living prophet who guides us as a called servant of God, holding keys necessary to the organization of God's kingdom on earth, the absence of which would make religion pointless and void. We also have Temples, kept sacred for the making of covenants, where salvation is found for the living and the dead, and love is sealed and promised to us as families, fulfilling its eternal nature. 

Words cannot describe the importance of such things. Words cannot convince, especially the words of a 19 year old kid from Utah. 

Only the manifestations of the Spirit can let us know things which cannot be uttered. Trust in the feelings you have. All that is good is from God. Likewise, only the fullness of the truth can fill your soul. Maybe one bite of a sandwich tastes the same as if you had eaten the whole thing, but which will fill you up? That's what it means to feast on the words of Christ. In this His church, we have the whole meal before us. So are we going to be picky, taking little nibbles here and there, knowing it tastes good, and say we've eaten enough? Or are we going to fill ourselves adequately, to give ourselves strength to endure, til all of our beliefs are manifest as pure knowledge? That is the purpose of faith. So that one day we may know, rather than believe.

I think we'll understand what that means when we finally see our Heavenly Father, each and every one of us, and embrace Him, just as loved ones embrace one another after being apart, and remember how much we've missed each other. Then we will know. There will be no need for believing. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans