Monday, February 23, 2015

February 23, 2015-- Email #70

February 23, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines

Kumusta Kayo!

This week flew for me as well! Jam-packed with splits and interviews and delicious foods... Oh, and the personal card is working fine now! So you don't need to worry about that. Good thing we solved things in time; we'll be going to Banaue Rice Terraces next Monday and I was hoping to get some remembrances from there.

Well, where to begin? On Tuesday we went on a special splits to Lagawe, the provincial capital of Ifugao Province. There are two Elders there who have been having trouble in their area as of late so we went to go check things out. The Elders themselves are not the problem; the circumstances they face there were of particular issue. First of all, the drive up there... Beautiful! Way, way up in the mountains, full of your classic narrow, cliff-edge roads with large, over-capacity buses trying to pass each other. Lagawe is just about 30 minutes from Banaue, and the terrain there is fairly similar, with a good amount of smaller rice terraces all over the hills. The houses are build on the ledges of the hills themselves, with massive staircases winding up and down throughout the area. Go check it out on Google; my camera could do it no justice.

Culturally, Ifugao is almost like going to a new country. It's part of a region called Region CAR, which was essentially set aside by the government as a place where the national laws wouldn't interfere with the tribal laws, rites, and conflicts of the Ifugao, Kalinga, and Igorot peoples. It's like they got their own little planet there. Some of the main things to give you an idea of what it's like there would be that most people have about 3 teeth left in their mouth, which they use to chew beetle-nut mixed with tobacco. Their mouths and lips are stained red from the incessant use of the drug. If you get far from the main highway, you'll find most people are better at English than they are at Tagalog. Ifugao is the main language, which sounds like drunk, gum-smacking Chinese(Which, I suppose, is not far off). There is a great deal of mental illness. And they bury their dead in the back-yard, in a big cement coffin which is sometimes left open. Cool, right?

The splits went really well. I was with Elder Mago, and we had a lot of opportunities to serve others, which I had prayed for specifically before we went out. I gained a great love for the Ifugao people, despite being so foreign to me(And to other Filipinos, in all honesty). The main problem brought up during splits was that there was an enormous amount of people, young and old, who would climb the fence into the lot of the Chapel there, and have a party, almost on a nightly basis. People would sleep on the lawn, have barbecues on the turf, date, play basketball, and spit orange-ish moma(beetle-nut juice) all over the Church property. The last time the Elders tried to tell them to respect the property better, they got sworn at and had no other choice but to leave it alone. Anyways, we had dinner at a members house that night. They own a fleet of 80+ buses and are very wealthy. They were super nice and it was a great way to end splits in Lagawe. Fun stuff!

The next day we had a nice day of work in our area(It's been long enough!) and then ended with dinner at the Balubal family. Sister Balubal is the Relief Society President, and it is under their 4-story house that we hold sacrament service in our Branch. She is married to a man from Texas, and we had a special meal... Steak. It was really good. In all honesty, however, as delicious as it was, I felt like I was cheating on Filipino food. Heh. Nevertheless, there was much rejoicing.

On Thursday we attended Zone Conference, and had the opportunity to introduce the new Standards of Excellence for our mission key indicators. It's a step up from last years standards, and even those were thought to be difficult to achieve. However, we were able to accomplish them as a mission in the past, and it was time for a new boost of energy in achieving greatness. President Rahlf had some excellent insights concerning Jesus Christ being the light and life of the world. I love how light is compared to truth, and how it emanates from one's being. I've seen it before. As soon as people start accepting and living truth, they have a glow about them. Likewise, those who deny the truth, or don't allow it to be a part of them, have a dark aura about them, it being most distinguishable through their eyes. It's no wonder Jesus made special point of that in His teachings. We need to accept truth through our spiritual eyes just as we need light to be able to see clearly with our physical eyes. Without a clear vision, it becomes harder to act for oneself, and decide which routes are the right ones.

On Friday we had a good round of weekly planning and were able to teach the Manuel brothers again. Denis is not yet married to his companion, but is really excited that they can be sealed together for eternity if they live the law of Chastity. That, and the Word of Wisdom, seem to be the two biggest issues with them. But the important part is that they are very willing and set on their goal to be baptized. Pray for them, they are remarkable guys! We're so blessed to know them.

Saturday, we started in the morning with a baptism in Solano, then a baptismal interview in Bayombong, then another baptism in Solano, and another baptismal interview a few hours after that! Wow! Hasten the work! Good thing we have some top-notch sister missionaries in this zone. What would we do without them? The first baptism in the morning was a very old woman named Ofelia who had to have two people baptize her, for added stability. She bore powerful testimony afterwards and could hardly feel the cold from the frigid water. Earlier that morning I had been reading in Our Heritage about the first groups of pioneers leaving Nauvoo for the west, and how they were the first(and not the last) of many pioneers who would have to cross frozen rivers, suffering the full blast of the elements, being forced out of their homes for the worship of God. The truth will always be opposed.

That night we had a lesson with Jupelyn, the recent convert young woman. It was an excellent lesson. It started out being about the Ten Commandments. A concern came out on one of them, "Honor thy father and thy mother". She, and another member from our ward, Fernando, have been told very hurtful things from their parents because of their joining the Church. "You're not my child." "We'll be holding you for adoption." It was very difficult for them to be able to honor their parents when they didn't feel they loved them. The lesson then turned to the power of the Atonement, and that how any one person can change, because of the sacrifice of our Redeemer. We all felt the Spirit very strongly, especially the reassurance that many a member of the Church, in its earlier days, have had similar experiences with their families disregarding them. It can be so difficult, especially when they long so greatly for the gospel to strengthen their family as a whole, as it was intended to do. We broke down in tears, and I wanted to break out in song! What amazing young people, being pioneers in their own right, knowing the truth and standing by it without hesitation, in the midst of so much adversity! They are not the first and they will not be the last! As long as we trust in God, and put forth our effort, everything will turn out well. (See Come, Come, Ye Saints)

I hope you are always grateful for your mountain home. It was built on a great deal of sacrifice from people like you and me, who did extraordinary things in the service of God. We are their heritage. We are still full of the pioneer spirit, as especially displayed in missionary efforts in foreign lands. I've had the blessing to know some of those pioneers here. They were truly called as instruments in the Lord's hand to bring His children to the knowledge of the truth. It is His work. The God of Israel is with us, and will not leave us alone. I know this is His Church, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

Monday, February 16, 2015

February 16, 2015-- Email #69

February 16, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines

Hello Family!

We had a super long district activity this morning, hiking into the mountainous jungles of Bayombong in search of a supposed "waterfall". Well, we found it. It was... A waterfall alright. But not worth the 3 (Which was said to be only 1) hours of hiking to get there. Yay! So I have about, well, zero time to email you all this week, and even less time to send the cool pictures I took. But we can work with this. I always give you super long emails, right? So one of them ends up short... Who's complaining? 

On Monday night I met the Manuel family, a former investigator family that lives very far away. They compose three brothers: Denis, Crisianto, and Joel. All of them are very hard working, down to earth guys. The main thing I like about them, like I do with other investigators whom are proactive, is that they are very open with their concerns and it makes it easier to be able to address those concerns. They all have Word of Wisdom issues, and so-far it seems that Denis and Crisianto have real desires to get rid of their vices and improve their and their families lives. The appointments are going very well and we were able to give them priesthood blessings that they might have strength to repent, become clean, and provide for their families. Joel is being a bit distant, but we're still working with him and his brothers to become more unified in their resolve to follow the Savior. 

I also have the opportunity to go on splits with Elder Baclea-an, the other Elder in our branch. He is a convert of about 3 years and has grown exponentially on his mission. It's amazing to see the progression he's made and the potential he's yet to achieve. I'm glad we were able to help each other out this week.

I know that this is the true Church, that Thomas S. Monson is a true prophet, seer, and revelator, and that opposition will cloud around us as the Second Coming draws nearer and nearer. It is no reason to lose faith. It's reason to gain faith that we are on the victorious side. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

Monday, February 9, 2015

February 9, 2015-- Email #68

February 9, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines


What a busy week! I've had more meetings this week than I ever had in my life! I love it, though! I'm growing more accustomed to the busy schedule of a zone leader and it's very rewarding. I'm refining better study, work, and organizational skills that really help me branch out with my talents. Elder Larona is an excellent, merciless(haha) teacher who keeps pushing me to be better. It's so refreshing to have that extra boost of confidence and drive every day, especially coming from the last 6 cycles of training, follow-up training, and more training. Finally, I get to be the trainee! I never stopped being a student, however.

On Wednesday we had Missionary Leadership Council (MLC) in Cauayan. It was a great experience meeting together with all of the zone leaders and sister training leaders from all over the mission to discuss mission goals, and more specifically this time, the new-and-improved Standards of Excellence. Those are the mission-wide goals for the Key Indicators. The great part about the council was to have President and Sister Rahlf teach us how to train our missionaries. The spirit is so strong in that council. I flew through the pages on my study journal, filled with awesome insights. I'm so glad I get to share those things with others. One of the things I really liked is how President talked about when we get married, we need to date our spouse for the rest of our lives, and how this could also apply to our companionship. So, as of now, me and Elder Larona have a scheduled "Date Night" every week. Nice temple/eternal marriage preparation, right? Oh boy. Bata pa (Still so young).

We have some pretty interesting investigators/members in our area. The members here are super nice, but they still haven't really gotten out of the phase of comparing me to past missionaries in their Branch. That's especially hard when this is a zone leader area and all of the missionaries here have been really top-notch. It's been humbling, alright. Haha. I've noticed, however, where in past days of my life I might have shut down and start spiraling into depression, I've been given a bright assurance from the Spirit that yes, in fact, I'm not perfect at everything, and I didn't come on my mission to be glorified in myself, but to glorify the Lord by serving Him. I've noticed the Spirit more prevalent in my teaching as of late, and I'm truly learning what it means to not rely on the "arm of flesh".

One particular instance I remember this week was when I read the account of Elijah in the Old Testament, where he became so tired, worn down from all of the things he had to do, and all of the pressure that was on him, that "he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord,take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers." (1 KINGS 19:4) That verse really hit home for me. Often times I've thought, in the past, if it would be better if I just gave up, if I could not be better than those that came before me. However, the words of Sister Holland came to mind when she gave her husband a pep-talk on the same subject: "We are not giving up. We are not going back. The future holds everything for us." Likewise, we find the response in the later verse of that chapter: "And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again." Sometimes I get home after work, too tired to even think about eating and cooking, but some sort of strength helps me to accomplish all things that are needful in the sight of God. He is always there for us, especially when the going gets tough and we need an extra push to the end.
"And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the  journey is too great for thee."

It's too great for us on our own. We need Him. Especially in the work of Salvation. It cannot go forth unless we call upon Him for support. For it is His work, and we are merely His humble servants, called to a journey, truly, "too great for [us]". What an honor it is to be along for the ride!

I know this is the true church of Jesus Christ on the earth. That same Jehovah that granted power to the prophets of old, including our friend Elijah, is the same Jehovah who carries forth His work in the latter-days. How could we deny His power? Look around! Life is beautiful, and we have a God in Heaven who loves us! He has prepared the way, and now it's up to us to follow it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

Photos! (First a few from Bagabag)

Our Branch meeting house(The garage), and a family home evening.

And we cooked some adobo :)

Now, the pictures from before I left my last area... Tugue!
Rusell's surprise visit to church

Balatico Family

DelaCruz Family

Tatay Ramos 

Ziad and Akmed, my Muslim friends

Saying goodbye to the boarders at Carig Sur

And bonus pic from forever ago in my first area!

And now, back to my current area... The Bagabag Boys

Monday, February 2, 2015

February 2, 2015-- Email #67

February 2, 2015
Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines

Naimbag nga Bigat!

You know what that means? Back in Ilocano land! Wave goodbye to Tuguegarao with its Itawis and Ybanag! I'm coming from the scorching heat of Cagayan valley to the cool mountain air of Nueva Vizcaya!

Nueva Vizcaya is the province adjacent to Quirino, where my first area was in Cabarroguis. The environment is pretty similar: cool, fresh air, mountainous, lots of rice in the flat land... absolutely perfect. I'm in a town called Bagabag (Try to say that fast ten times). All of the cities down here seem to have very funny names: Bambang, Bayombong, Bagahabag... That reminds me of a Tagalog tongue twister you should try saying: "Librong Pangkatagalogan na Nakakapagpabagabag" (If you succeeded in saying the first one ten times fast, here's a real challenge). My new companion is Elder Larona. He is my batch from the Manila MTC. We are the Zone Leaders for Solano Zone, which encompasses most of the northern half of Nueva Vizcaya and the entire Ifugao province. We are serving in the Bagabag branch with two other Elders.

So, to cover some of the highlights of this transfer... It's exactly where I wanted to go. I have been saying for a while now that I wanted to be transferred to the south part of the mission, specifically Solano Zone. Ironically enough, I have also been saying that I wanted to become companions with Elder Larona, considering we never really knew each other that well and I'd heard many good things about him. I was also hoping that I would have the opportunity to be a leader, with opportunities to learn and grow as a missionary. Well, it all happened. Perfectly. And I praise God for His great mercy and love. He has answered my prayers without falter and is constantly showing me ways I can magnify my calling. Other bonuses with this transfer... Elder Larson is one of the District Leaders here, which means we'll have the opportunity to go on splits together. I'm really excited about that. I've been told as well that there is a delicious restaurant here by the name of Mrs. Bakers. I will have to update you on that.

REWIND! Let me tell you about my last few days in Tuguegarao. (Pictures, unfortunately, to come next week)
I had quite the send-off. It started on Monday evening when me and Elder Rebojo were on our way to say goodbye to the boarders at Carig Sur. As we were walking down the plaza, we ran into brothers Ziad and Akmed(The Lebanese and the Lybian)! I had tried texting them before so we could meet for lunch before I left, but the plans didn't work out. Luckily, we ran into each other at just the right time and were able to arrange a lunch for that coming Tuesday. The best part of the story is that Ziad tells me "something told me to get off of the tricee before we ran into you guys. In fact, we had just been talking about you before. If we wouldn't have gotten off of the tricee early, we wouldn't have run into you like we did." He then pointed towards the sky and exclaimed, "That's my Allah." Akmed cooked for us the next day and it was amazing. Seriously. He is a gifted cook. I showed them the church website while we were waiting for lunch. Ziad was very impressed with the Salt Lake Temple and the things that were done there. We exchanged contact information afterwards. They are amazing guys. I hope to keep in touch with them.

We had a very spiritual experience saying goodbye to the boarders at Carig Sur. We shared with them our testimonies of Christ, ending with Moroni10:32. It was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I've had. All of us had a very hard time holding back tears. I exhorted them to read the Book of Mormon and to continue along their path of finding out whether it's true. I can't remember the other things I said to them, but I'll never forget the feeling. They were sad to see me go and we took a lot of pictures on their cameras. I got a few on mine as well. After that we had dinner with the Dela Cruz family and the Balatico family. I know, right? Two dinners! I really miss Tuguegarao. But I know I'm needed here in Bagabag at this time, so I do not linger on things that have passed.

The Branch here is super strong. I've found out this area has had a long line of talented, hard-working, charismatic missionaries assigned to it, which greatly intimidated me at first, but I've learned to forget comparing myself to other missionaries and do my best as I can. Elder Larona has been helping me by his example and I've learned so much from him in the short time we've been together. I'm so glad I have this opportunity to magnify my calling.

This is the true Church of Jesus Christ. The Priesthood has been restored to the earth, and all of the keys necessary to usher in the Second Coming of our Lord rest with a living Prophet, who continues to receive revelation for us, and keep us under the watchful care of the True and Living God in a world of tumult and confusion. My Heavenly Father has opened chambers of my heart that I didn't even know were there, and allowed me to see things a little more as He sees them, that my capacity to love may grow, and that I may bless His children my whole life, until I enter into His rest at last. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans