I hope you are all doing well and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving - festive and fun. Even though it doesn't feel anything like Christmas season here, it's still fun to be able to get ready to celebrate. Actually we've been having some pretty crazy weather here. This week it was hail the size of golf balls! AND SO MUCH RAIN. Other than that it has been very nice. For Thanksgiving, I thought that instead of trying to outdo all of you, I'll just eat lychees because it's one thing I know I will be missing a year from now. I don't like the holidays because you can't help but feel a little homesick. At the same time I cannot believe that it's almost Christmas. The time I've been in Fianarantsoa has gone so fast. I need to stop blinking or it's going to be over.
We had transfers this last week, but we're all staying the same in Fianarantsoa. When you're this far away from everything it doesn't really feel like there are other missionaries and a mission home out there. You just feel like everything is very, very far away. This is a little city, completely inaccessible to the outside world except for one dirt road that runs from the capital and an airport that has such a short runway that it's practically useless. It's funny to think this is the third largest city in the country. Ha ha.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to list a couple of things that I am especially thankful for. Although this list is far from complete or even representative of all that I'm thankful for, it's what comes to mind right now.
I am Thankful for...
Being able to devote all my time and efforts to my God and to my Savior without any distraction and with total focus on helping them complete their mission
I have an amazing family, a mother and father who love each other and love me, and they support me always without being asked and in total love and compassion
I have annoying siblings, yeah, I'm thankful for that, ha ha!:p
I have grandparents who love and support me unconditionally, and who worry about me and care, and who I am important to
I have wonderful friends who have supported me throughout my mission, who have prayed for me, and even though we are often times from different backgrounds and faiths, they have always been there for me, especially Taylor
I am able to work here in Fianarantsoa and the Lord trusts me to minister and do the greatest work on earth and in eternity
I am thankful that I can change and progress and that I'm able to learn and grow and improve myself
I'm thankful that I'm not perfect and that I can know that I'm not perfect and that I can work to be better
I'm thankful for all of those on the mission who support me and allow me to work, who sacrifice and put forth effort to make this opportunity available for me
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the single greatest thing that has ever been done for me, and ultimately the thing I am most grateful for, the thing that allows all the other things to be possible, I am eternally grateful for the sacrifice of my Savior Jesus Christ, that he in his perfection died to rescue an imperfect soul like me, because of his pure love he saw in me what I cannot see in myself, and that he now walks with me each step, he suffered for everything that has and will ever happen to me, now he supports me each step in my times of trial and victory.
I have had a hard, but very rewarding week. I'm thankful for the opportunity to write to all of you. As a companionship we made pizza everyday, which was really fun. We made all the dough, toppings, and sauce last p-day. Then we made it quickly each day as we came home. Today we were going to go to the national park Ranomahafana, but in the end we weren't able to go. So, we went into the old town of Fianarantsoa where some of the first Christian churches in all of Madagascar were built and still stand. It was really cool to be able to see them. We found the guardian's house for the oldest one and they let us inside. It was amazingly cool and we could pretty much just walk around and do whatever. They let us up by the organ, etc. It made me think of grandpa Steve. If you can talk to the right people you can pretty much do anything in Madagascar. We tried to look inside the cathedral, but it was closed. Apparently the bishop and nuns have the same p-day as us.
One really exciting thing that happened this week is that one of our investigators, that we have been working with for a long time, came to church with his son. His wife couldn't come because she was sick. It was great, and he seemed to have a good time. One hard thing is that I can't be with the people we're teaching in church. I was conducting, and then I had to teach gospel doctrine. He was doing well when I talked to him. We are doing a lot of training for the leaders. This week was tithing settlement. I feel like my letters since I've been here are a little hard to explain to people who aren't Mormon because they use so much unique vocabulary. But, if I had to sum it up, lots and lots of teaching. I love teaching, in any language - teaching and helping people grow.
Another amazing story here in Fianarantsoa is the family of one of our recent converts. The husband got baptized, but his wife and children didn't get baptized with him. They were very hesitant about his decision to join the church. We have been working with them and now they are preparing for baptism. We are so excited for them. It has been amazing to see their conversion little by little. It has been hard for his wife, but we gave her a challenge to study finding answers in The Book of Mormon, and then pray about it. At first she would say, I accept that because it agrees with what I already think. But after that assignment I think she realized that she needed to put her questions to the Lord. She started praying. The next time we asked if the reading was true, she said that she knew it was. We asked her how she knew. Before she would have said that it agrees with the Bible or this or that. This time she got a big smile and said, because the holy spirit let me know that it was true. It was such a powerful moment. The spirit was very strong in the room. This and another experience this week reminded me of how important it is for us all to ask God in faith and if we honestly seek an answer we will know what we should do. When I was teaching gospel doctrine this week we talked about faith and I shared a quote from President Uchtdorf. He said, :"I wish that I could let everyone in the world know one simple truth. We believe in the gospel, not because of things we do not know, but because of things we do know in our hearts and our spirits to be true." I asked the class to share their conversion stories, since everyone in there was a convert. It was amazing to hear everyone explain essentially the same story. Two weird people knocked on my door, I didn't really want to let them in but I did anyway, I don't know why, they explained this wonderful message to me, I read, studied, prayed, and felt it was true. That to me is an amazing testimony, and it is so true. They felt the spirit because they were honest and ready. I invite everyone who has honest questions to put them before the Lord in solemn prayer. You will know what you should do.
I hope you all have a wonderful week,
Hello. We have been working very hard and I'm thankful for all of the unusual opportunities that I've had on my mission. We are working with some very nice families. Also the weather has been fabulous! During the summer in Fianarantsoa it's typically either raining and flooding or it's warm and sunny.
In response to your question, mom, I haven't received any of the packages you sent for the holidays. I would love some new insoles. It worked best when I put the gel and cloth ones together. I know that sounds extravagant, but I like having comfortable shoes. If you wanted to send more insoles, I wouldn't object - ha ha. Nothing will ruin you day more effectively than bad shoes. Thankfully, mine have held up well. Regrettably, Madagascar has finally gotten to them. They don't keep the water out 100% anymore. I was so sad, but I guess that's okay.
Last preparation day we went on a hike. It was fun. There is a giant statue of Mary at the place she visited here in Fianar. I don't think it's an officially recognized Mary visitation site, but don't tell anyone here that. It's funny that the diocese here accepts it fully, but it isn't accepted more widely. Anyway, it was fun to go up there and see it. I had already been, but this time I took my new companions. I got to explain Mary visitations too. It's always fun when I get to use my four years of theology.
Everything is going well in Fianarantsoa. Most of last week was spent in a car driving across Madagascar for zone conference. Thankfully the drive was nice. Zone conference was very good. It was great to see Sister Foote and President again. They are doing well and we got to eat pulled pork, which was fun.
It has been raining all week here. I've basically walked through my insoles again. So azo lazaina fa - missionary life. Regrettably, when it started raining we we found that our house had a hole in the roof. So now at some point we have to find the time to find someone who can fix it. But, that's a problem for later - ha ha.
We've been talking as a companionship about what we learned at zone conference. It corresponded a lot with what was talked about in general conference, especially focusing on simple, true discipleship. We talked about the difference between converting someone and conversion to the gospel - that conversion is from God. It was very applicable.
Otherwise, I'm doing well. I am not suffering from tons of flea bites like my companion, Elder Snell. I will say that I am completely done trying to type on this French keyboard. It's so annoying. I love you all very much and miss you. Have a great week.
It has been another good week in Fianarantsoa. There isn't a lot to report, simply because missionary work doesn't really change a whole lot from day to day. We're always doing a lot, but as far as crazy or noteworthy things, they're a bit rare.
This week we will be going to Antsirabe for zone conference, so we will have a bit of traveling. Also, Elder Bednar came this week. I was very far away from where he was speaking, but it was still cool that he came here to Madagascar. The members were really excited and a whole group from our branch went to see him, including the branch president. The branch president got everything settled before hand, but I had to help lead everything on Sunday while he was gone. We were able to get a member to serve as first counselor, but he was only called last week so I had to help him. For all practical purposes I was leading our Sunday. It was a little nerve racking. Overall, it went well.
We are working really hard here. There's a lot to do. We're starting to get into the summer which means rain, rain, and rain. It's also starting to get hot. Fianarantsoa is in the middle of the rainforest. The city itself has been mostly cleared out over time, but you don't have to go very far to remember where you really are - it is both beautiful and also very muggy and hot.
The work is going well. It is difficult, but I love the people. I got a text message from someone who I found in Tana. He is getting baptized and wanted to say hi. I really appreciated that. I'll probably call him later today. I'm really enjoying working with my new companions Elder Snell and Elder Obioma. They're both super obedient and very diligent, which makes missionary work much more fun. Also, we're having a good time cooking together. Elder Obioma likes to cook. This week we made spaghetti and Philly cheesesteaks. Next week is enchiladas. They aren't that good, but we are enjoying trying things. We work so so hard in this place, there's just so much to do. Most of the time we're on member splits working in two different areas.
The last thought that I'll leave you with today is this... make your discipleship less artificial. It's easy a missionary to get caught up in programs and schedules - using your time, but not actually being present when it comes down to teaching and helping. Although administering the gospel is important, it is temporal. Ultimately we (isika, in Malagasy there is 'we' exclusive and 'we' inclusive including the people you're talking to. Isika is inclusive.) Isika need to focus more on ministering and never get lost. As servants of Christ we must always remember that we are his body. We are his arms. We can never forget that discipleship. Ultimately it isn't a program, it's charity - the pure love of Christ.
Hello. I'm well other than the fact that I'm trying to use a stupid French keyboard because the cyber we usually go to with the English keyboards isn't open. Accordingly, I'm going to keep this a little short because it takes forever to type anything! ha ha. It's good to hear that everyone is doing well. I'm very happy in this area. Our branch is doing well. Yesterday a member of the mission presidency came down from Tana. We also had financial training this week and learned how to give out welfare, which was kind of a strange conversation to participate in.
As far as actual missionary work is concerned, we are trying to combine three programs into one. I don't want to spend too much time talking about the administration of missionary work today. I don't find it to be very spiritually uplifting - ha ha. I have been listening a lot to the general conference talks from this last conference. Possibly my favorite talk was given by President Monson at the Priesthood session. It was on keeping the commandments. I really appreciated that topic. Recently I've been thinking a lot about the basics of the gospel. We make our discipleship far too complicated sometimes. When it comes down to it, the gospel is very simple. We will only find happiness by keeping the commandments. No matter how much we justify or tell ourselves that something doesn't apply to us, it cannot negate reality. Asking questions is not wrong, but excusing our own indiscretions by blaming it on lack of evidence robs us of needed blessings. Follow priesthood leaders, keep the commandments, and things will work out. Do it even if it is inconvenient because in this the most joy will be found.
So, before I throw this keyboard through the window, I love you all. Have a great week.
This week I'll start by answering some of your questions. When and how are you going to hear General Conference?I actually already listened to the whole thing. I downloaded it onto my flash drive and we have mini DVD players at the house to watch church stuff on. I watched it. It was really good. I felt like the three biggest things were keep the commandments, the Holy Ghost, and practically applying the gospel in life to receive the greatest joy and benefit. I really liked all the talks, but I think my favorite was probably by Eyring. I think he has my favorite thoughts every conference. He's awesome. How are you feeling? Last week you mentioned that you are really tired. Did you get some rest? I'm always really tired because I've been working 16 hour days. We just have a lot to do working with the branch, but I did get some rest and I'm feeling less tired now. Now that you are in your third area, and a veteran in the field, what are some of the ways you've changed and grown? Hmmm, well I don't really feel any more prepared now than I did when I was being trained. I probably feel less qualified. But that doesn't really matter, it's just a matter of trusting that you are doing what is required of you, and fulfilling it to the amount that the Lord grants you success. Mostly you just have to learn to be really trusting. I do like being able to help others and explain things to them. I've also been very blessed to serve in different callings which have taught me so much about the church, myself, and others. I've had the blessing of working with tons of amazing elders - especially serving as a trainer to Elder Razafindretsetra, working in the office, working on fixing MLS, serving as a district leader and zone leader, and working in the branch presidency is constantly humbling. I've learned that absolute humility is necessary. I'm still working on it, but you have to be willing to take the opportunities that the Lord gives to you and apply them in your life. That is where the greatest blessings come for me. I've learned that you can never be too worthy, too consecrated, too humble, too patient. The list goes on, and we'll never achieve any of these qualities in this life, but it is the responsibility of a lifetime of service that teaches you how to apply these things in your life. It's hard, but it's a blessing. I enjoy it. I wish I was better at it, but one step at a time - ha ha.
On other notes, we had transfers this week. I'm staying here and getting two new companions. Elder Obioma and Elder Snell. We will be the three elders serving in the two branches down here. I believe that two of us will continue to serve in the branch presidency. We are all working really hard to shore up the foundations of these two branches, so that's definitely exciting. I hope everyone is well.
I'll pass along your message to Elaine and thank her for feeding us. I ate my Halloween package already - it's not really a thing here and I don't like waiting. I'm having a hard week, working hard. I'm actually really tired. I'm looking forward to taking it easy today. Working in the branch presidency here is hard. We have to do things I've never done before. This week we were trying to assign callings and trying to figure out a paint scheme for the church to repaint it. It is also very humbling. Fun fact, I'm terribly bad at leading sacrament meeting. I get really nervous. It's funny because I don't mind public speaking, but doing it in Malagasy is harder.
What else... the weather has been really nice lately as we approach spring and summer. I made meatloaf yesterday. It was okay, which is how I'd describe all of the food I've made here up to this point. Sorry this is a bit dull. I'm just really worn out. I think I'm going to rest all day. I've never been so tired at any point in my life. Good, but tired. Working all the time here is especially taxing, but I like that.
Well. I'm sure you feel this way too, but at the end of the week it's so hard to gather your thoughts. It's not that I don't have anything to say, but I am not good at just writing. Apparently, I'm very verbal. I guess that isn't actually a bad thing. In fact, I'm so verbal that I bought a dictaphone for my journal because writing in it was the worst thing ever. I hated it and couldn't express my feelings or thoughts very well.
I'll start today with one thing I think will make mom very happy. I think it's the answer to prayers (probably a lot of them offered by her - ha ha). There is a woman name Elaine down here. No, that's not a Malagasy name. She's actually from South Africa. Anyway, she isn't a member of the church. She and her husband live here because he works with US Aid. She's not an investigator, but she met the missionaries here a few years ago and she feeds us two to three times a week. Her son lives overseas and she misses him a lot. She hopes that feeding us will help bless him. She loves the missionaries and calls us her boys. She feeds us western meals. On Sunday we had BBQ and potato salad. She's such a blessing and so nice. She always says that she has to keep us fat! I thought you would all like to hear that reassuring news.
This week has been good being a counselor. It is still hard. It makes me feel very irresponsible and immature because I don't feel ready for all of it. Thankfully, I have the Lord and church handbooks. I've said it before, but people should read the handbooks. They are a blessing! We are making progress here, but the church is still really struggling. We are on the outskirts of the church as it were. The members are really sweet, though.
We have a baptism next week. It's a really sweet couple. I think I told you about them, and they're so happy. The Assistants are also down here visiting right now, so a lot is happening. I got my Halloween package. I feel like it got here really fast. I don't remember you mentioning that you sent one. Hey, one thing that I would appreciate for Christmas is seven pairs of socks. All of mine had tons of holes in them, and I was getting really bad blisters. I threw them all away and bought Malagasy socks, but Malagasy socks aren't very good and they're not big enough. So if you could send more socks it would be appreciated. Send dark athletic style socks instead of dress socks. Dress socks get holes in them too fast. (note from mom: I thought this request was too funny to leave out. Evidently Alex will be getting dark athletic socks for Christmas. The poor kid wears a size 14. I'm sure Malagasy socks are too small.)
I love all you very much and hope you have a good week. Tell dad to enjoy his trip to DC. Maybe he can stop by the Madagascar embassy and say salama inona vaovao for me!
It has been a nice week. The weather is slowly warming up here. Fianarantsoa is such a different place. The church is very small here and faces some difficult challenges. Last Sunday I conducted for the first time. It was hard, especially doing it in another language. I also conducted at Branch Council. Thankfully, I'm more used to that. We did financial training this week. South Africa representatives worked with me and then I worked with the members translating. Lots of new things this week.
We have a few really amazing families that we're working with and preparing for baptism. One met the missionaries when he was just standing out in front of his house. The missionaries walked by and asked if they could come in. Afterwards he said that he doesn't know why he let them in, but he just said yes before thinking. Since that time they've been doing really well. I'm really excited for them. We've also been working with a young man (he's two years older than me) who was recently reactivated. He has been bringing one of his friends to church with him who is also very interested in the church. It's exciting and I hope they can help one another.
This week was a massive gathering of Catholic youth in Madagascar. They all came here to Fianar. The center of action was just outside of our house. There were 50,000 people thronging the streets. It was pretty wild. There were tons and tons of buses that brought people flowing into the city at a massive rate. This little city turned into a large city over night. It was a little hard to find people to teach because so many people were doing things to support the gathering. It was cool to see people from all over the country. There were a lot of new dialects. It was a unique experience. Today everyone is going home. They're getting back onto buses and leaving. It was weird that the city could swell with people and then shrink again so quickly.
One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately is an answer Joseph Smith gave about how the church was governed. More specifically, why people were so desirous to be obedient and follow the counsel of leaders. In response he said, "They are taught correct principles and then they govern themselves." I've been thinking about the concept of correct principles, especially working here in a place with a lot of difficulties. I think a lot of times we want to just correct people and tell them what to do. That works, but it causes less growth in the individual and can only be maintained by constant supervision. It's a bit damning. On the other hand, teaching correct principles is inherently liberating. Perfect teaching of correct principles will lead to true understanding. Then people can choose for themselves. At that point there are no excuses. I think teaching and explaining doctrine is so important. Sermonizing is one thing, but explaining an expounding is Christ like.
I had a meeting with President Foote today. I feel like I spend a lot of time in meeting, but because of my new responsibilities I don't always have a choice. First off, I love all of you very much. This week has been good. My new assignment is really difficult, but it's causing me to grow a lot. There are quite a few difficult things here that I need to help with. Also, being in a leadership position means you have to correct people sometimes and do things that people won't necessarily like, but because it's the right thing. Today we had our personal interviews with the mission president. That is really a blessing of being in a small mission. We talked a lot about what is going on here and how we can help it grow.
So, things going on here in Fianarantsoa... there is a huge Catholic convention. Approximately 50,000 youth from all over Madagascar are converging on this little city. The largest gathering place is right across the hill from here. It's a little bit crazy with lots of people coming in.
Answers to questions from mom: How is your new area? It's nice. It's really pretty. I love being out of the big city. It's much cleaner here, also the people are nice. There's one young man whose uncle I trained who now calls me Grandpa. It makes me laugh.
Is the flora and fauna different from the other areas you served? Yeah, its really different. Fianar is right on the line between grassland and jungle. It's not rain forest like in Toamasina, but dense jungle. This is where most of the wild lemurs are found. It's really pretty here. There are a lot of rice paddies. It's also high in elevation. The city is practically a mountain. which is difficult on bikes - lots of hills.
You previously mentioned that part of the area is sketchy. What's sketchy about it? It's the end of the world and sometimes it can get pretty dangerous. Nothing to worry about. Sometimes there are rebels that come down from the mountains and fight with the military in the city.
I heard from a missionary that served in that area a year ago that Fianar has some decent restaurants. Is that true for your area? Yeah, they're pretty good I guess. They're not bad - ha ha.
I then asked Alex what he would like for Christmas because I will need to mail his Christmas package in approximately two weeks. His only request was a Mt. Dew! I have no idea how I could safely mail a soda to Madagascar.
This has been quite a week. First off, I really love my new area. In case you didn't know, this is where my first trainee was from. It's really cool to work in his hometown. It's also a little weird because people already know me. There is a picture of us in his house and all of his family already knew who I was. That was cool. People are really poor here. This place is outside of the western sphere. Some parts are a little scary, but we won't talk about that. For the most part it just feels like you're so far away from everything. I'm serving in the branch presidency, which is really strange. I had to count tithing on Sunday and we had a presidency meeting. It's all very new to me. I have had to do a lot of things that I hadn't really expected as a missionary. The reason I'm here is that there have recently been a lot of excommunications and disfellowshipping for a host of reasons. It's sad, but we're working on it. Both branches here are really struggling and we're trying to fix them and get everything running again. The branch president is a senior missionary. It is definitely a learning experience to read handbook one and administer leadership. It was really strange to sit in the counselor chair in sacrament meeting. Right now I'm just trying to learn why the Lord sent me here and what I need to do here. One of the biggest things is that the membership records here are in shambles. I need to go through and fix all of the MLS for both branches because it is something I know how to do. So, a new adventure trying to combat apostasy and such.
As far as the city is concerned, the missionaries are good. The people are really nice and very very simple. The place is really poor. I love it though. It is much cleaner than Tana. It has a very different vibe. It is very Catholic here. Our house looks over the cathedral and a giant statue of Mary on the hill.
Responses to questions: How is your weight?
My weight is fine. You worry too much. It's just hard keep weight on here, especially now that we're on bikes riding up and down hills every day. I can't gain weight in this country, but I'm not dying. Here in Fianarantsoa it's hard because we don't have a supermarket or anything. We have to find everything on the street. It isn't like Tana.
Who is your new companion?
My new companion is Elder Hardy from Utah somewhere north of Logan. He has been serving for a year and a half.
Anyway, I'm doing well. I love the new challenges, but they are uniquely hard. I'm learning. Right now I'm just trying to keep quiet and watch. Next week I think I'm leading sacrament meeting so that's weird - ha ha. I'll 'talk' to you next week.
I had a couple of unique experiences this week. The first is more of a sad note. Frede is the man who handles everything in the office. His father passed away. It was expected but still sad. We went as an office to the wake. Each group that has any relationship to the family is required to send a party to give a little bit of money and give love, condolences, and respect to the deceased. At these events one person gives a speech in traditional Malagasy poetry, and I had the opportunity to give it for the group of all the office workers. I've been working a little bit on learning Malagasy poetry called kabary. Although I'm not good at it, it helps me to keep pushing my Malagasy to get better. Anyway, it was a special experience to be able to share condolences in a way that speaks to others. It's actually a poetic conversation between a representative from the family and from the delegation. It was hard, but it's encouraging me to work harder. Thankfully, I didn't break any taboos or make any bad mistakes, since that would have been very offensive given the circumstances. Frede, who is a wonderful guy, is doing well now, and he thanked me for giving the kabary.
Here's a brief excerpt from what I said. This is the main speech portion. There are other parts, but this is the main fankahaharesena (making strong or uplifting part). Also, as a side note, my Malagasy spelling is terrible, This translation isn't word for word but more the general ideas.
Tonga eto izahay, tsy hamendrofendro na hamoaka ny alahelo, fa tonga hitonddra ny teny
We have come, not to distract or expel your sadness, but we came to bring words of
fampiononona manatanteraka ny tenin'ny Tompo manao hoe: "Miaraha mifaly amini'izay mifaly, ary
comfort following the commandment of the Lord "be happpy with those that are happy and morn
miaraha mitomany amin'izay mitomany". Mafy tokoa izao fahoriana midona aminareo izao satria
with those that morn." This wake is difficult for because
folaka andry niankinana, toro vato fandiavana ny ankohonany ary potraka fefy mpanohan'drivotra.
this good son has passed on, a great stone in the household and a wall of support of the family.
ny fianakaviana. Efa nataonareo avokoa ny ala-nenina rehtr (raha nisy) mefa mahery fisintona ny
You have already put aside regrets, however, death is a difficult withdrawal.
fahafatesana, izao no lahatra, ka afaka ho aiza moa! Tsara zara ny fahafatesana ka samy manana iray
This is the final goal of all and thus free to go. Death is a good and necessary part that comes upon
Okay, that's really rough, and I can't quite translate all of it. It's not really normal Malagasy, but yeah, it was really unique. I also gave a talk in church this week, which was really special! So, all in all another great week. I'm doing well, and I hope all of you are too. Also, a final note, there is a possibility that I won't be emailing on Monday next week because we have a Zone Conference with President Cook from the Africa Southeast Presidency.
I hope you guys are ready for school. It's weird because I can't really accept that anyone has grown since I left. I've had a great week. We are teaching a bunch of younger families right now. It's hard finding families that are ready to progress. I've found a lot families to teach, but they are often comfortable in their ways. However, we have some really great people that we are teaching right now. I'll let you know a little about them. But let me give you an update on office work first. It's not very spiritually uplifting but people keep telling me it's necessary. Sometimes I doubt that a little bit - ha ha. Actually it is important, it's just that there is ministering and administering in the church. They are both important. My great adventures lately have been focused around two big things - MLS and shipping to the mission. MLS is finally moving forward in earnest. We start this week to update all the leadership records in Madagascar. I wonder how I can put on my resume that I helped reorganize a record keeping software for a country larger than Texas with 10,000 individual records in it. (Sorry Texas, I know you think no one is bigger than you:) I'm excited to finally see some progress with it because I've been working on it for so long. It's weird having to read Handbook 1 and stuff on how to recreate records or remove duplicates, etc. The next thing I've been working on is shipping to Madagascar. We haven't received supplies as a mission for over a year! We have nothing, even though we've ordered tons of stuff and been charged for it. I have a great big puzzle to figure out, trying to follow back the lines to determine where all our stuff is and how we can get it here. This is one of the harder challenges that I've had in the office. I love finally working in an environment where the answers aren't certain. In school there is so often one answer, sometimes hidden but you just have to find it. Here, there may be no answer, yet you still have to find a solution. My expedition so far has led me to call Salt Lake, Germany, and South Africa. I accidentally called clothing rental at the Frankfurt, Germany temple. Needless to say, they didn't quite know what an IROP number was. Thankfully the grandma that I scared in Frankfurt spoke just enough English to let me know I must have the wrong number - ha ha. So I'll give a shout out to them for being so wonderful. Also, I think I've made a couple of peoples day by calling from Madagascar. They usually say, 'wow, I've never had someone call from there before!'
We have some wonderful recent converts getting ready to go on missions. And our ward mission leader just opened up a butcher store.
(note from mom: the rest of the letter was generally private notes to family. I typically ask Alex if there is anything that he would like me to send him. In the early days of his mission he appreciated American treats and reminders of home. Now his requests are for soap, toothpaste, and deodorant - the "luxuries" that we don't even think about.)
This week has been full. I'm doing well. I love Madagascar. I feel a special affinity for this place. It's hard. I can't say that I always like it, but I love it. One difficult thing for our ward this week was the passing of a pioneer. The wife of one of the high counselors passed away unexpectedly on Monday afternoon after a massive heart attack. It was really sad. She and her husband have been members for years and have done a lot to build the church here. She actually bore her testimony on Sunday and taught Relief Society. The family was sad, but mostly they were very thankful that only a few months before they had gone to the temple. Her husband kept saying that he felt they needed to go. She passed away just four months later. Her husband was very thankful for the temple. It made me think about how blessed we are that we don't have to sacrifice six months worth of all expenses above food and housing (the usual temple sacrifice) to go to the temple. The Lord places pioneers in places like Madagascar. I just want to learn to be like them and to bring that back with me. I always find it interesting that the Lord sends such great people to the church here. Smart, skilled people who have lots of potential, and they are willing to sacrifice wealth, time, and prestige to build the church. To be a stake president or bishop here is essentially a full time job. We (our family and those similarly situated) only get to go to the temple because others before us made the difficult sacrifices, thinking about our day and wanting their children to have the blessings of the gospel. They paid their tithing, sacrificed their time, and dedicated everything for God. I would like to dedicate, but most importantly consecrate, more.
A cool thing that happened this week was Mormona manome tanana - Mormon helping hands. It was really cool. We had 50 people show from just our ward, which was especially insane because people in Madagascar don't really have a concept of charity and service. Anyway, we built an incinerator (in this case it was a cement garbage can with pipes at the bottom for water to run out), a chalk board, and cleaned a school. It was a very good experience. Also mixing concrete with a shovel is hard. Also carrying 50 lbs of bricks, sand, etc was tough. They were going to carry something like 350 bricks and 200 lbs two miles, but the senior missionary couple offered to let the members use their truck so that made it a whole lot easier - ha ha.
I'm doing well and hope everyone there is too. Please say hello to everyone for me.
Another week in paradise. I was sick earlier this week, but I feel much better now. It's raining in Tana. It's very cold, which feels strange since it's August. I realized that it was August last year that I arrived in Madagascar. I really love my ward here in Betongolo. Sometimes it's hard that we have to share time with the office. I'm kind of inclined to neglect the office - ha ha. I love our area. We have a bunch of new people that we're teaching. I changed my tracting approach this week. It has really helped with finding people. Instead of introducing myself as a missionary and kind of making conversation with people, I'm trying to be really direct. I think it's important for people to see the significance of what we're talking about. I like to say we are servants of Jesus Christ, and we have a very important message for you that will bless your life. It feels weird to say, but it shows clearly what we're about. It's really important for people to feel the spirit because that's ultimately what will change their lives. Yesterday we had a lesson that fell through so we started tracting. It was late at night and raining. Usually at night people won't let us in, but we decided to pray, try to stay focused on the work, and not get discouraged. We found three new people to teach in just 40 minutes of tracting. In fact every door that we knocked on let us in. Sometimes it's easy to get discouraged in Madagascar. People are nice, but some are unkind to members of the church. Members sometimes get evicted or are refused jobs. Progressing in the work can be difficult. This email has been all over the place, but I hope you are all doing well.