Monday, April 27, 2015

April 27, 2015-- Email #79

April 27, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines

Maayong Buntag! 
(trans. "Good Morning!" in Bisaya)

On to the next chapter of the mission! Elder Larona is transferred to my old Zone in Tuguegarao! It seems like everyone that comes from Solano gets transferred there. And just in the nick of time! Last weather report says Cagayan Valley is in the high 30's C (or about 100 F), not to mention the humidity! Good thing I'm in, relatively, the coldest part of the mission... I don't know what they're talking about 'cause it's still super hot. To be honest though, I think I'd prefer hot and humid over cold and dry. Not looking forward to that in October. 

Speaking of seeing familiar faces, the Mother's Day call is coming up! On the 10th of May we can have a Skype call (but I might still hide my face for kicks and giggles ah?). What we'll probably end up doing is I'll Skype on the 11th here while it will be the evening of the 10th over there. That goes perfectly 'cause the 11th is our P-day. But if people won't be able to make it, we are given flexibility with our schedule so just email me the details by next week so we can get everything coordinated.

So, guess who my new companion is? Of course! It's Elder DelosReyes, the only companion I've had that has a last name with more than 3 syllables! He's been a Zone Leader for a cycle more than me, and just came from the Alicia Zone. I met him when we were in Tuguegarao together, he being in North while I was in South. He's from Davao City, in Mindanao, which makes him the third companion I've had from Mindanao. He's awesome! He reminds me a lot of a Filipino version of Jonah Hoskins... Friendly, fun to be around, really great singing voice, contagious laugh... We've been getting along swell this past week. It's been a great relief; in all honesty I was getting a little stressed with Elder Larona and he was getting stressed with me. However, I'm eternally grateful for the endless list of things he taught me and that I learned from him. 

On Wednesday night Elder Olson slept over with his new trainee, Elder Cloma. He's also from Mindanao, and has the same accent Elder Rebojo had on his first day in the field! It was so cute, all of his little Tagalog grammar mistakes and everything, ah! Reminded me of my first day with Elder Rebojo. So glad I still get to see him so often. The next morning we had a meeting with the District leaders and the Sister Training Leaders in the Zone to set some new goals. Our Zone goals this last cycle were seriously lacking specific direction, and I seemed to be oblivious to it until this last transfer... So we all got on board and set some brand new goals, within the Districts and the Zone as a whole, concerning baptisms, less active returns, and contacting/finding. It's really lightened up our work this last week! Having a goal where everyone is working for a certain number, all dependent on one another's hard work, really helps with motivation and drive every hour each day! The area, and the whole Zone, just has such a nicer feeling about it as of late. I'm glad I've begun learning what hope really means!

Elder DelosReyes is a great teacher, and I've learned a ton from his methods this last week. It's really helped me refine and define myself. We have a really cool new investigator named Bryan. He's from Marikina, Manila, but he's living up here for a month to do the glass work on the new Bagabag chapel. Considering he is helping build a new church building, it turned into a great way to begin learning more about the church. He's attended sacrament meeting two weeks now, and he's having really great experiences. He's expressed wanting to know for himself before committing to baptism, and wants to be taught by the missionaries in his home town once he heads home. So that's been fun!

We've had awesome finding opportunities as of late, and one of them especially comes to mind. We were walking down the street from brother Efren Oro's home (who seems to have disappeared due to his unpredictable work schedule) when we saw a middle-aged woman wave at us, calling us Elder. My companion thought it might be a member but I'd never met them nor seen them before. We introduced ourselves and found out that she, sister Rita, was not herself a member, but that she had three older brothers who were active members of the church and were currently serving as bishops in Singapore -- all three of them. Their whole family of 6 had been taught when they were young but only the boys in the family were baptized; the three girls were too young at the time. We met two of the sisters there at the house and they remembered attending church once in a ward in Singapore. She said "it felt like I was in heaven!" We were shocked that their family hadn't been referred to the missionaries before. We haven't taught their entire family yet, but we did get to teach a group of their grandchildren one afternoon which was a really spiritual experience. There is a hopeful future ahead for this family. I know it. 

We had a really awesome service project on Saturday where the whole branch got together, suited with Mormon Helping Hands vests, and cleaned up the streets of Lamut, Ifugao. We were blessed with some finding opportunities along the way and it really helped people gain an interest in what the Church really does. On Sunday I gave a talk having to do with a lot of the themes in my last email... Hope, faith, traversing the wilderness of life, looking forward, not looking back... After the talk the District President, who attends our branch, came up to me with his wife, thanking me for the message. They said they'd been fasting and praying for an answer to a specific issue in their lives and I seemed to be used as an instrument in God's hands in answering their prayers. How great is that feeling! Please thank Brett for his article about hope, I really needed it! He was an answer to my prayers as well!

I truly know that for my own strength, and wisdom, and talent, I'm nothing, but with God I can do anything. His plan is perfect, and his promises are sure. I will definitely boast in his strength. Who would have thought, from the beginning, I'd end up where I am now? Now I'm in this beautiful place, serving along side such beautiful people, coming closer to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It's such a wonderful journey, and I wish it'd never end. However, I know that when the time comes I return from my labors here, I want to leave no regrets. It is possible through my God, whom I love so dearly. Wake up, and do something more, every day til the time comes we're called to meet our Maker! I leave this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, April 20, 2015

April 20, 2015-- Email #78

April 20, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines

Maphod an Algo!
(trans. "Good Day!" in Ifugao)

We're emailing in Solano today so hopefully I won't have any malfunctions again! Gee wiz it has been a busy week! And to top it all off, this is the last p-Day before transfers on Wednesday! Elder Larona is being transferred, along with Elder Mago, and many other Sister missionaries from my batch that are now going home... Yes, their 18 months are now up, and I've got 6 months left. I wish it was longer. I love this place so much. I'll have a hard time saying goodbye, but when the Lord calls me home, I'll go home willingly. 

Tuesday, at District meeting, Elder Olson was absent, being called to a meeting in Cauayan for the new trainers. Elder Larona taught the lesson for their district, and later that night both Elders Olson and Elder Enuake stayed at our apartment before heading back to their areas the next morning. It's been a while since I've seen Elder Enuake! That was fun. He's training for the second time now, and is one of the district leaders in Bambang Zone. We had a lot going on that day but I was able to have splits with Elder Baclea-an again. I've made a greater effort to talk to people on the jeepney during travel. It's always a much more refreshing trip when you're able to share the restored gospel along the way. One of those times was super embarrassing. When I was getting off the jeep (which obviously I've done countless times) I hit my head on the Filipino-sized roof when ducking under and almost lost my footing. With no amount of grace I plopped myself out of the back, skidded a bit, and caught myself with my hands on the lip of the jeep. The people inside gasped "Ay! Naku! (Oh my goodness!)." So that was fun, eh? The important part was I shared my testimony, even if I experienced a severe lack of coordination on my exit. 

On Wednesday we had a delicious lunch at the Senica home. Most of their family are members, including brother Fernando who is our most frequent fellowshipper. He's had a difficult relationship with his parents concerning the Church, but they were kind enough to invite us to eat at their extended family reunion. We're working with two of his recent-convert/less-active brothers to come back to Church. They are really solid guys, especially Ferdinand. I think progress is underway. Right after the lunch we packed our things and headed up to Lagawe to have splits with the Elders there again. It was an excellent day of preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth! If I would define a place as being the "ends of the earth", Lagawe would definitely fit in there. The Elders there have been discouraged lately with the lack of Branch support and the difficult cultural differences there, so on Wednesday our goal was to motivate them, and tackle the beast head-on, so to speak. We focused on contacting new people. Despite all odds, in such an unexpected place as that, we found people that were looking for the truth even if they hadn't known it. I was with Elder Olson. One man we met at his house immediately invited us in. We learned he had recently come from Mindanao but had married an Ifugao, so he spoke a mix of English, Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilocano, and Ifugao. Talk about weird. Haha. Good thing is though that I've had some experience with all of those languages now so there wasn't much of a barrier. Another woman we met immediately told us to not give her our message because she was a Catholic. She then openly admitted that she wasn't active in her own religion anyways, but was just lazy when it came to spiritual matters. Elder Olson and I changed the conversation to her family and the Ifugao language, and by the end of it she happily accepted to read about the restoration and to visit. When walking home, we crossed the street to talk to a man walking home too. He ended up being interested by the end of the conversation as well. There were a lot of tender mercies that beautiful day in Lagawe. It's so fun to be a servant of the Lord, no matter how hard it gets. 

On Thursday morning I found some delicious, cheap pancake sandwiches to fuel me for our next trip: to Cauayan. We had planned splits with the Assistants to the President so made the long journey from Lagawe to Cauayan in about 5 hours. Whew! Once we got there I learned I'd be with Elder Espino! We have a bit of a funny history together. When I was training in Santiago, he was my district leader. When I was district leader in Tuguegarao, he was my zone leader. Now I'm zone leader in Solano, and he's the Assistant to the President! Pretty funny how that works. We had a great day, riding in a car for the first time in forever, blasting the Prince of Egypt soundtrack, teaching as many people as we could find, refining skills... It was a really great splits. We had a fellowshipper with us to tried to convince me he was preparing for his mission, when I knew right off the bat that he was an RM. His ploy finally broke when we met a man cooking chicken who turned out to be from the Visayas. They started speaking the language together without flaw. He's an RM from the Cagayan de Oro mission, which speaks that language. Hah. I've got you now. 

On Friday we traveled back to Bagabag and made it just in time to attend Priesthood Executive Committee meeting, which once again had incomplete attendance. That's one of the weaknesses in the Branch: meetings starting on time and with complete attendance. But the strengths will always outweigh the weaknesses when the Lord is on our side. President Bumatay attended the meeting with his councilor Brother Francis Bayatan. President Bumatay is one of the most Christ-like, humble people I've ever met. He's just a simple rice farmer with a heart and Spirit bigger than life. It's become a tradition in our meetings that a giant, life-threatening beetle will fly in through the window and attack my face during reporting, resulting in a lot of frantic hand-waving and reaching for large objects efficient for crushing. After the commotion is over, the meeting goes on as normal. Fun stuff like that happens all the time. Yay. 

This week I compared the life of Christ with the life of Moses, being inspired by the song "Deliver Us" from Prince of Egypt. There are so many parallels to be drawn to the plan of salvation from the time-old story of Moses and the children of Israel. First of all, we notice that both of them were born at a time when infants of their lineage were being hunted and killed in an effort to quench an uprising. Second of all, we notice that the covenant people, in both of their times, were in bondage or occupation of an alien nation. In the case of Jesus, it was the Romans. In the case of Moses, it was the Egyptians. Alien powers show strong symbolism to Babylon, the original alien power, which is always related to worldly powers, practices, etc. Just as Moses was risen up to save the covenant children from the powerful influence of Egypt, and bring them to a promised land, Jesus Christ was sent by our loving Heavenly Father to save His children from the grasp of the Devil, and bring us home to His presence. Now, the Atonement saves us from the bondage of sin and death, but it is still dependent upon our agency whether we are willing to travel in the wilderness to reach the promised land, or whether we want to wander, and even long to return for the departed Egypt, or Babylon, or Sodom and Gomorrah. Are we going to murmur like they did? Like Laman and Lemuel? Are we going to put down the hand-cart and pack up for England? Or are we going to die with our face toward Zion, rather than turning out by the wayside? Traverse that wilderness! Pick up the handcart! Press forward saints! I like to exemplify this as a moto of life with the lyrics found in a popular hymn: "Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end." God wants to know if we truly love Him. We know that we do, deep inside of us, for He is our Father. He's given us this chance here on earth to learn to love Him again, and find Him within ourselves. It all begins with our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Just as the children of Israel had no hope of being saved if they didn't follow Moses through the Red Sea on dry ground, we can't hope for a better future -- an eternal future -- if we don't follow Jesus Christ, our Savior. 

This is the Spirit of revelation. It's the same Spirit that allowed the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. If we put our trust in God, without relying in our own flesh or in hollow promises of the Devil, then the knowledge flows into our mind and our heart, we begin to remember our pre-mortal decisions and our eternal destiny, we get to know ourselves as we know our Father better, and what seemed impossible before becomes possible, without the shadow of a doubt. That's the Spirit that Moses exemplified in his life as a prophet, and a special witness of the Savior. It's the Spirit we have the opportunity of obtaining by the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I love this work and I know this Church is true. God has shown me my weaknesses and has continually made me strong. I will follow Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

Splits in Lagawe: Part 2 

Tracting in Lagawe...

Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13, 2015-- Email #77

April 13, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines

Dear Family,

Always such a refreshing experience to listen to the words of living Prophets and Apostles! Like always, their messages fit right into the needs of all those listening, because they come from our loving Heavenly Father who knows what we need to hear at this specific time. We must trust in the revelation received this weekend, and begin to live it immediately! That is how we make our sustaining vote count! I feel bad for those who opposed... I don't know what sort of Prophet their looking for, but the kind that God prepares is not one that satisfies itchy ears or gives fluffy, pleasing doctrines. The kind of Prophets God calls are those who have been called from the most obscure of circumstances, strengthened by God Himself that He may show forth His power, to declare His word to all those who will hearken and heed the voice, no matter how difficult the truth may seem to follow. It is a test of our faith and the key to obtain eternal blessings. The scripture I've especially enjoyed sharing this week, whilst inviting others to hear the Prophet's voice, is found in Mosiah 15:11:

"Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God."

There seems to be a key link between our eternal salvation and these specially foreordained men who have brought the scriptures to our understanding, performed miracles, and held the power of God Himself to prepare the children of men for the time they'd be brought to meet their Maker. How great to know the Priesthood has indeed been restored! It's the foolproof way to have a sturdy home and family when it is presided over by the Holy Priesthood, which God in His mercy has allowed us to hold, live, and practice for His purposes! 

Anyways, there are too many thoughts from Conference for me to be able to narrow down on one, but I enjoyed as well as you did the thought about "I can teach you to dance, but you have to hear the music". It's what we do as missionaries every day. We're teaching everyone the most complete and correct of any dance on earth, and everyone looks at us like we're a little crazy. "Why is this crazy white guy talking to me about a living Prophet? What does that even mean?" It's because they haven't yet heard the amazing, life-changing, perspective-shifting, harmonious-beyond-compare music of this precious restored Gospel! I think of the lyrics to a EFY song from "Meet the Mormons":

It's like a symphony 
Just keep listening
And pretty soon you'll start
To figure out your part
Everyone plays a piece
And there are melodies
In each one of us
Oh, It's glorious

This computer shop always malfunctions and it's super annoying! I have to stop having such long testimonies at the beginning or something, I never get to talk about the people we're teaching! We have a lot of people in our teaching pool shifting in and out so it's been difficult to center in on specific investigators. But Efren Oro came to attend conference and I saw him tearing up at many parts, especially when the speaker would bare testimony of the living Christ. It was awesome! God has something big in store for us, just around the corner. I can feel it. I hope you feel it too. I've been learning how to obtain hope as of late, and trying to distinguish it between patience. A perfect brightness of hope is the attitude that we know the blessings will come as long as we keep living the way we should to obtain them and appreciate them. I know this church is true. I know God lives, and that Jesus Christ is the victor over sin and death. Stay on His side. He has given us plenty of evidence to let us know He will never fail us, and the adversary always will fail us. I leave this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans

Editors note-- Elder JPK sent 17 digital photos along with his email this week! :-)


It's Banaue! Round Two!

If you can't read, our t-shirt says "MIB; Missionaries in Bagabag" and our names on the back.

Father and son hitting up the rice terraces

Elder Olson and I in the bizarre, fitting in quite well.

Creative tribal costuming...

I missed my Ifugao peeps.

The Banaue Rice Terraces

Bonus: After Zone Meeting, and some nice barbecued intestines/pork fat.

Monday, April 6, 2015

April 6, 2015-- Email #76

April 6, 2015
Bagabag, Philippines


Don't let the Spanish fool you. I don't know a lick of it. I do know, however, that this last week stands as one of importance for all of us. Semana Santa, the Passion, or Holy Week! And as the Philippines does every year, they went all out, including many parts of the country holding live crucifixion ceremonies. That's right -- live, as in volunteers are scourged, carry a cross to the top of a hill, have real nails driven into their hands and feet... The whole shebang. A literal spin on Luke 9:23... How great it is that we have living Prophets and Apostles, receiving revelation from the very same Christ who rose from the dead nearly 2000 years ago, leading the same Church He established on earth as restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. We don't need to worry about going astray from what God really wants for us, or risk being led by doctrines with forms of Godliness but no power therein. It is here. This is the truth. It shows up and turns out over and over again, never failing me, always drawing me nearer to Jesus of Nazareth, who is indeed the Christ. How much more have we reason to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, than we, the members of His Church, under His guidance in the last days? 

The particular testimony that I've enjoyed this week was prompted from my remembering a primary song, called "Easter Hosanna". The story from which the lyrics are derived is described in the introduction of the Book of Mormon as "the crowning event" of the record. We had the unique opportunity to share this message (3 Nephi 11:13-17) with investigators, contacts, and members alike, and I can still feel of its divine power even now:

And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come. And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.

I remember previous times in my life where I've shouted for joy. Whether it was a BYU game, or a rock concert, or when one of us siblings was performing, we can all relate to the feeling we get when we're so excited, so drawn into the experience and the success of those performing, we can't help but shout it out for all to hear. However, all of these experiences can't come even remotely close to the joy we felt when we heard of the Plan of Salvation for the first time in the pre-existence, or when Christ was born, or when He rose from the dead on the third day, or when these chosen few people were able to witness the resurrected Christ in the flesh. I'm confident we were there among the angels during all of those great events. 

The computer is malfunctioning now so I have to cut it short. Too bad! Next week. I know the things which I shared are true. This is such an excellent week to celebrate our Lord. After all the testimonies which have been given of Him, truly the best and simplest is that He lives. He still lives and guides us and loves us today. I leave this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Kocherhans 

 With the Orprecio family, and their furry friends (The rabbits, that is).

Father and Son reunited, riding wooden elephants as usual (FHE). Accompanied by Elder Mago.

 Sunrise in Bagabag, outside the apartment.