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

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