Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dec 28, 2014 An Agricultural Revolution

"You ride [your bike] like you were born in the [provinces]." Me to Elder Child

"You ride like bikes have the right of way." Elder Child in response

The provinces are a little different than the city. I mean, it's still Cambodia and it's still missionary work and it's still teaching people and stuff but it's still different. Different how? Uhh, well... there are fewer people, the houses are more spread out, it's prettier, people are generally less educated but more friendly. It's hard to describe really. Obviously on the surface it's pretty different but it has a different feel too. Maybe I've just got a bad cold.

We were at an investigator's house the other day and he owns some kind of parrot. It wasn't like any parrot I've ever seen but it talked and stuff like that. It spoke in Khmer of course, and basically like the first word that came out of his mouth after hello was a swear word. Is that just universal or what? It seems like that is always the second thing the bird learns. Pretty funny. The guy we're teaching was really apologetic. "Sorry about my bird, he doesn't know that's a bad word. He thinks it's a good word! That's why he keeps saying it so much!" Elder Nhoem told us about a bird near his house in Kampong Cham that sat at the front of a little shop and announced to the owner that "they're here" whenever customers walked up. Funny enough, that bird said bad words, too.

Transfer calls were yesterday. Elder Child and Elder Nhoem are leaving me and I'll be with Elder Ngov for my last six weeks here. His parents are Khmer but he was born and raised in America. It will be a fun companionship. I've had a pretty wild last few months as far as the mission goes. I've been in 3 areas with 5 different companions, in a threesome twice, an emergency transfer, etc. Hopefully this will be the last of that.

Me, Elder Child and Elder Nheom after the road dead ended into the river. We had to backtrack a little but there were some cool views. Elder Nheom tried to take some artsy pictures by holding his camera out over the water.

It's rice harvesting season! I don't remember how much I told you about rice harvesting last year but it pretty much consumes all the laborers for 2-3 months in the winter. Unless, you use a tractor. I saw a couple of people use tractors last year but this year it's really becoming wide spread. I would guess that up to 60% of the rice fields I see are being harvested with a machine. The thing with the tractor is that, unless you do the whole thing without hiring any labor (which would take a really long time unless you have a very large family), it's both cheaper and faster. People are catching on. We're watching the second agricultural revolution happen right before our eyes in Cambodia. It causes problems in the short run (no jobs for the laborers) but obviously it will be better in the long run. Still, we go out and help those that harvest by hand.

Elder Vore harvesting rice (chrote srow). You take that little mini curved scythe thing, hook it in the stalks of rice, grab with your free hand cut and repeat.

Elder Nhum told a story the other day that really made me stop and think and I want to share it with y'all too. It was a couple of years ago when he was a recent convert and his mom was learning with the missionaries. She hadn't really caught the spirit yet. She hadn't been to church in a while and wasn't really progressing. At one particular lesson the missionaries asked if she had her scriptures. She went to a different room to get them and brought them out, covered in dust, slightly water damaged and obviously unread for quite some time. She excused herself briefly and was busy in the other room.

Then Elder Nhum saw the missionary do something that really made him think. That missionary picked the book up carefully, and with tears in his eyes wiped the dust off of the cover and fanned through the pages to unstick them. He then pulled a small rag out of his backpack and wiped the cover until it was clean. Now, I don't know what was going through that missionary's head but that story really made me pause and think: How much do I value God's word? 

"In the late 1300s, a priest named John Wycliffe initiated a translation of the Bible from Latin into English. Because English was then an emerging, unrefined language, church leaders deemed it unsuitable to convey God’s word. Some leaders were certain that if people could read and interpret the Bible for themselves, its doctrine would be corrupted; others feared that people with independent access to the scriptures would not need the church and would cease to support it financially. Consequently, Wycliffe was denounced as a heretic and treated accordingly. After he died and was buried, his bones were dug up and burned. But God’s work could not be stopped. (Robert D. Hales 'Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: My Hand Shall Be over Thee'", Oct 2005)

God's word cannot be stopped! Isn't that just so cool! Can we think about that for a minute? How do you treat God's word? How often are you reading, studying, feasting upon the words of Christ? (2 Nephi 32:3) Take 5 seconds of personal reflection for a second here and then decide what you can do to be more fully a student of the Word. Love you guys!
-Elder Vore

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dec 14, 2014 He is the Gift

First things first. A great big thank you goes out to my wonderful parents who sent a super awesome birthday/Christmas package that managed to get to me right on my birthday! Thank you also to everyone that sent letters! I love you guys! I set up the Christmas tree right away and put it on a little box to make it taller. Then I put the nativity you sent in front and placed pictures of Christ all around. I love Christmas time! Unfortunately, the box I packed last year with all the ornaments and decorations you sent disappeared... I probably forgot it somewhere :P Thanks for making the Christmas season a little more Christmas-y!

Elder Child was actually talking about that just the other day. It's not very Christmas-y around here. There's actually pretty much nothing to remind us of Christmas outside of our homes. Most of the people around here know that Christmas exists but that's pretty much it. It's kind of like how you see "Boxing Day (Canada)'' on your calendar every year and you know like basically when it is and that someone is celebrating it in Canada but you don't really know or, frankly, care what they're doing to celebrate it or even why they're celebrating. It is cold though. You know, relatively cold. It gets down to like 65 degrees at night sometimes. All those people sleeping outside at nights could get a cold...

Speaking of cold, Elder Nheom has been playfully complaining that we have turned the bedroom into Utah. It stays a chill 17 degrees C in our room at night. I'm cold too but there are 5 in our bedroom and they've out voted us.

A member of our congregation was speaking in church yesterday.  He is a recent convert to the church who has absolutely no Christian background. In fact, he constantly turns to us when he is teaching to check if what he is saying is doctrinally or scripturally correct. That's one of the difficulties with a lay ministry in a third-world Buddhist country, but we deal with it.

Anyway, he was speaking up at the front of the congregation and he wanted to share a scripture. "Now I'm going to turn to [Luke] chapter 3 and share a scripture" he said. " Yes chapter 3..." He had his scriptures out and was poring through them but couldn't seem to find the verse he was looking for. Embarrassed he cleared his throat and said, "Well, I can't find that verse but it goes a little something like this.." and then he paused. As he paused and the congregation waited his wife stood up from the pew behind me and called out to her husband, "I found it! It's verse 16-17!" He looked at her and mouthed "16-17?" which she replied to audibly. Then he shared the scripture. I love it when everyone is so involved in the learning process. :P

In a couple of recent lessons about Christmas I have asked the question, "Does anyone know why we give gifts at Christmas?" That's a fun little question and there are probably lots of cool historical answers to that, but maybe the most basic answer is found in Matthew chapter 2. Wise men, magi, came from the east to worship the Christ child and bring him gifts. We follow that tradition and give gifts to our loved ones.

I love both giving and getting gifts and it's a really fun part of Christmas, but as we all know, it's not really the point. The greatest gift to be had at Christmas time is the gift of Christ. It is a time to be grateful and a time to remember the greatest gift ever given, from a loving Heavenly Father to all of His children.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)"

Merry Christmas!
Elder Vore

                                                               Santa at the Christmas Party


                                       Pictures with Church Members

We were heading out to a small group of members in an area far away called Chuu Dtial when we stopped to talk to some people. Afterward we realized that we had stopped in a really pretty place and took some pictures.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dec 8, 2014 Boring Off-Roading in Cambodian Jungles

Yesterday there was a baby blessing in our branch here. It's quite possible that everyone who participated in the blessing was participating in a baby blessing for the very first time. With that in mind, we can all understand why there were some problems. They announced that there would be a blessing and then came to the front. Problem: the child's mom is breastfeeding her. Solution: pull up a chair for mommy! So, this woman who is breastfeeding her child walks right up to the front of the congregation and sits down in the chair that our branch president has provided for her. --Side note, public breastfeeding is not weird in Cambodia, though it felt a little too out in the open for me...-- They all started gathering around the chair to bless the baby but the woman was still just smiling and breastfeeding her child! That's when me and Elder Nheom got up and suggested that Mom go sit down and that the child's father should hold the baby and everyone else in the circle put their hands under the baby. Crisis averted.

Elder Vore and Elder Child
The other day we were going to our last lesson and Elder Nhum turns to me and says that the house we are going to is on the other side of this ditch and we have to back track to the main road to get around it. "Or," he says, "We can ride our bikes down the side and then carry them up the other side". Well, that sounded like a good idea to me but when we started going forward Elder Child (who had not really been consulted yet) said, "Wait, we're going THAT way? Well, OK." That was a little ominous but he explained that last time it was pretty muddy and they almost slipped and fell into the stream. As we walked our bikes into the jungle an older woman muttered, "I don't know why you're going over there. There's no road." Yet another somewhat ominous sign, but we continued forward.

Elder Child shined his flashlight down the hill. It was probably 20-25 feet downhill at a 55 degree angle or so. Rocks, trees and small animals cluttered the way. We went anyway, and after that dramatic of an introduction you would expect that something happened huh? Nope. We took the hill like BMX riders. Loud, screamy BMX riders. I wish I had taken a picture as we were looking down. Dragging the bikes back up the other side was probably the hardest part actually.

Had someone compliment me in a very strange way the other day. She told me I was so attractive that I looked like a girl. That was supposed to be a good thing for her but I wasn't really sure about it. Still, she persisted. "Yeah, you do look like a girl, but like you still love women... A homosexual woman! Yup, that's it!" I didn;t really know what to say so I just thanked her, invited her to church and rode off. Weird...

I've been studying the Doctrine and Covenants lately and started thinking about one of the themes found in it. D&C 82:10 reads, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." It's not a very complicated idea but it is a very important one. God promises great blessings for us but they are all conditional blessings. "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—  And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.(D&C 130:20-21)" .Some blessings we receive having fulfilled the condition of being His children. Other blessings have a longer list of conditions.

For example, take the scripture found in D&C 14:7 "And, IF (emphasis added) you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." Does that scripture even need further explanation to make it clear? IF we keep God's commandments and endure to the end, THEN we will receive the great blessing of eternal life.

There are those who would say that God will bless people regardless of their actions and they are absolutely right. God blesses everyone, both righteous and sinners, but He reserves His greatest blessings for those who work for them. "For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory."  

That's my spiel for today! Love y'all!
-Elder Vore

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nov 30, 2014 Gassed Out!

New companions! Introducing Elders Nheom and Child! Elder Nheom is a Khmer Elder from Kampung Cham who has been a member of the church for just over 4 years now. He's about 5' 5" and says the funniest things when we bike down the road. The members love him here. Elder Child is from Bountiful, Utah. This is his first area and he's really picking up the language quickly. Fun fact, his parents knew mine back when they were in college (our moms were camp counselors together?) and apparently they read this blog a lot. Shout out to the Child family! Your son is the coolest!

I had a really fun companion exchange this week when I went to Pursat with Elder Britain. Elders Britain and Bo just opened missionary work in Pursat last month and it is exciting to be in a new relatively untouched area. They were in Batdambong for Thanksgiving. We actually did have a pretty great Thanksgiving meal but it was kind of funny because it was hosted by a Canadian couple serving a mission here and we ate turkey with Khmer food.

 After Thanksgiving dinner, 4 of us, Elders Britain, Bo, Nheom and myself headed to Pursat. Because the bus schedules didn't work well with our schedule we decided to just flag down a car and go with them. That may sound sketchy according to first world standards, but it's perfectly normal around here. We had our backpacks and started walking down the highway. It wasn't long until someone asked us where we were going and offered to take us there for $15. All four of us sat in the backseat. Elder Britain and I didn't have bikes so we spent our entire time out there on foot, teaching, looking for people that want to learn about our church and advertising for their English class. On the way back Elder Nhoem and I did the same thing. This time we both sat in the front seat together for the hour and a half ride back to Batdambong.

A member of a branch here in Batdambong died on Friday and they kept her body in the church. Some interesting things about Khmer funerals. The family of the deceased person is expected to put on a feast for everyone who comes to pay their respects. The people who come pay for the food and are expected to pay very generously for the food to help pay for the funeral. Also, the family and friends of the deceased person have to be with the body all the time. The more there are the better.

 So for the past few days there has been a constant parade of people coming through the church eating and taking turns sitting in the chapel overflow room with the casket. Sunday morning came and we were filing in for sacrament meeting. Several family members were keeping vigil with the casket and were slightly miffed that we were going through with our normal church services. One of the members of the branch presidency came to me and asked if it would be a good idea to open the overflow curtain so that we could all be in the same room as the casket. Actually, he literally said, "Do you think we should open the overflow and display the casket during sacrament meeting?" Umm, no. They picked me to go explain that to the family members with the casket who were actually ok with that. Never thought I'd hear that question asked to me...  "Do you think we should open the overflow and display the casket during sacrament meeting?"

On Tuesday mornings the missionaries in our zone here in Batdambong all gather together for district meetings. We are in 4 districts and three of them meet in separate rooms at the church. We were getting close to wrapping up our district meeting when we heard a loud whirring sound. Someone was out in front of the church, wearing a gas mask, holding what appeared to be a large leaf blower. It was clear though that he was spraying for pests and he blew billowing clouds of grey mist into drains out around the church.

 We ignored him, closed the curtains and continued our training meeting. About 10 minutes later the sound got suddenly much louder and we were somewhat shocked to hear the blower thing coming into the church. We tried to get out but by the time we opened the door there were already clouds of bug poison filling the church. The other two districts opened their doors to find the same thing. It was pretty hilarious. Would have been really bad if the stuff had been a little more dangerous.  We closed the door, opened the widows in our room, and sat over by the windows for 30 minutes or so. We couldn't get out of the windows because they are barred to discourage theft. They OKed us to leave after a while and we held our breaths and stumbled through the smokey hallways out the door. It was a little more dramatic than it should have been. Funny though.

Last little story! We were at Thanksgiving dinner and one of the Khmer Elders, Elder Reom, was looking at a little pilgrim hat that Sister Zemp had made to decorate the table. She put a black paper circle down and then covered a small cup with black paper and put it one top. Elder Reom picked it up and asked me what it was. That was kind of hard for me to explain and I told him it was the style of hat they wore in America 400 years or so ago. He turned it over in his hand and then turned the cup right side up and poured himself some water. 

That's it for me guys, I'm out of time! Thank you for your prayers, both those in my behalf and those offered for the people I meet everyday. Love y'all!
-Elder Vore

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Nov 23, 2014 Quit Staring at your Food and Eat It!

The day I left Sen Sok was a really sad day. We got a call as we were packing that Makara, a young member of our branch had fallen from a bridge and was injured very seriously. The ambulance was already on it's way so we called the Branch President and left as soon as we could.

 By the time we got there he had already died. He was fishing and leaned over the guardrail when he slipped. His fall jostled some rocks that fell and crushed him. It was a bloody, heartbreaking scene. We helped the medical crew move his body into their home where most of the village was gathered. His dad was beyond comforting. He knelt by his son's body and sobbed for some three hours.

 After a while I took the other children aside and we prayed for comfort. His mom was one of the last to arrive. She was at work far away when she got word that her son was in a serious accident. She immediately left work and flagged down a passing motor taxi. Without a personal cell phone, she had no way of knowing how severe the accident was until she got to the house. I can't even write about this without tears coming to my eyes. Several of the village leaders came up to me and asked if we would be taking Makara's body to the wat to do the necessary Buddhist rites or if we would be taking care of the funeral services. I didn't want to step out of my boundaries and suggested that they wait until his father had collected himself and then ask him. Makara's  brother solved the question when he declared very emphatically that he, his siblings and his parents were Christian now and whatever the Branch President decided to do, that's what they would do. I was frustrated how quickly they focused on a somewhat less important matter. Couldn't we let the parents mourn for a few hours before we start talking about what we're going to do next?

It's always a sad thing when our loved ones pass away, but we can take comfort in the promises that are contained the holy scriptures. When we are faithful, we will meet with our loved ones in the next life. 

I left straight from there to go to my next area all the way up north in Batdambong. The church hasn't been established here as long as it has been in the city. The area is much more open and the buildings and scenery make you think of... well, Cambodia. Our Bishop is an excited member who was baptized a few months after I got to the country. We will likely be taking a more in depth role in the branch and helping teach classes and manage the branch than we usually do.

Random thought. A couple of weeks ago I was at church and a member who recently returned from his mission here in Cambodia asked the Branch President who would be teaching Sunday School. The teacher had suddenly gone out of town and no one had prepared a lesson. The Branch President said something like, "Well, Final, will you teach today? Actually, can you teach this class from now on?" 10 minutes later the Branch President was setting him apart as a teacher in front of the class. Don't see that in America much...

Last week I was taking a different route than I usually take to go home. It was late, dark and the road was lit only by the light from signs on the side of the road. I looked up and was somewhat surprised to see that there were light posts at regular intervals, but that they were all off. I wondered why they were off. Was there a power outage? Did they not have enough money to keep them on? I never really got to the bottom of it but I remember thinking, "Why would you put lights and then not use them? " 

There's probably several lessons that could be learned here but as I was biking I started thinking about the importance of applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There's not much point in having a knowledge of the scriptures and of the doctrine of salvation that can lead to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come, if you don't apply it. It's kind of like ordering food at a restaurant and then just staring at it. "Boy that pizza sure looks good..." Quit staring at your food and eat it! Likewise, we need to apply our knowledge and understanding about the gospel. Love y'all,
Elder Vore

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nov 16, 2014 To Batdombong We Go!

So, you guys know how I had a kind of crazy week last week going to a new area and all? Well, we're doing it again! I'm only going to be in Sen Sok for 2 weeks and then I will be moving to Batdombong! I was pretty shocked when I got that call. Sen Sok is a small, struggling branch a few kilos north of the city and I was actually pretty excited to have an opportunity to work here. I had an experience on my second day in Sen Sok that I feel like pretty much describes Sen Sok.

 We were in a tiny alleyway outside the small tin shack of the member we were waiting for. A man finished his beer and threw the can off to the side, disrupting the kids who were playing naked in the street. The 5 or 6 women who were playing cards didn't even blink. One man was collecting cans to sell to recyclers. He picked up the can, turned it over his head and drained the last few drops before tossing it in his bag. A lot of people here spend most of their time drinking,smoking and gambling while occasionally going around scrounging for a living. I'm super grateful for the church that helps us understand what we really need to be doing in our lives. I am excited to go to Batdombong too though. It will be my first real experience of being out of Phnom Penh.

Yesterday I got to play the piano when our pianist's child suddenly had a problem. Closing song was 'Now Let Us Rejoice' on page 32 in the Khmer hymnal. I started playing the intro and then looked at the last bit of the intro on the other page. What I was seeing didn't seem to make sense. I was suddenly playing a different song. I stopped playing and everyone looked at me. I examined the hymnal that I was playing from and realized that the middle sheet (pgs 33-36) in the hymnal had been ripped out, which meant that I was now playing the hymn on page 37. Little awkward as I stood up and looked for a hymnal that didn't have sheets missing. Then I played the hymn. Badly. I wish I had actually learned how to sight read before my mission.

My companion is a little antsy so I've gotta get going by I want to tell a quick story about a woman named Heang. She got in the habit of paying her tithing at the beginning of the month before she received her salary. Last month she was hoping for a raise so she paid more in tithing. Now, I don't know if this always works but she got the raise and it was even more than what she had hoped for. She promptly paid an offering of 10% on the raise she got. Isn't it cool what can happen when we act in faith? Sorry this email is short, Love you guys!! :D
-Elder Vore

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nov 9, 2014 Back to the Boonies

After a pretty crazy week with several problems in the branches out here, President Moon decided that some changes needed to be made. I was on my way to teach at a Zone Training meeting this last Friday when I got the call that I was to pack my bags and take over things in Sen Sok starting that evening. Boy, that was a bit of a shock. I didn't even get to say goodbye to everyone! Sen Sok is still in the same zone as Tuol Kork but it is about 13 kilos north and a little off to the west. I'm going there with Elder Neng, who is somewhat familiar with the area, having previously served there for like three weeks.

 Sen Sok is a small, struggling branch that is based in a very poor area that was created by the government for people whose land was needed for city building projects. It's pretty different from my last couple of areas in the city. Goats and chickens are all over the place. Cows, ducks, geese, pigs, all over the place. Most of the people live in small tin shanties raised on stilts. I'll have to send y'all some pictures so you can visualize it. We live in one of the nicest houses in the whole area. Honestly, I'm embarrassed by how nice our house is in comparison to everyone else around us. Sure there are housing standards for the mission and stuff but it's pretty ridiculous.

One of the members that I'm really sad I won't be meeting around town any more is Chombei. Chombei has been a member for a little over a year now and she is one of the most devoted Christians I have ever met. She always seems to have some dramatic event going on in her life.  For example, a few weeks ago at church she came up to me and told me that she had a problem. A cousin (like a third cousin or something like that) or hers got a really serious illness and his family took him to a kruu Khmea, or a Khmea witch doctor who told them that he sensed that one of their relatives had joined the christians and that the reason this kid was sick was because his ancestors were angry.

His family started racking their brains to try and figure out who had joined the dark side and finally decided that Chombei was the closest Christian relative. They called her and told her that she needed to renounce Christianity and go do a Buddhist ritual to save her cousin's life. She, of course, told them that it was ridiculous and she would not do any rituals or renouncing but that she would come as soon as church was over. Around the time church ended, her cousin died. It was a very sad, very dramatic afternoon. One morning later in the week she looked out her front window to see a Khmea witch doctor and a couple of others burning incense, sprinkling water and chanting around her little shop. They were trying to curse her and call down evil spirits to harm her... She told me she just prayed and went around like normal!

Another person that I'm leaving in Tuol Kork is named Sarueon. He's led an interesting life. He never has explained exactly what he was doing during the Pol Pot era, but after the Vietnamese invaded Phnom Penh in 1979 he became a monk for 7 years. Afterward he got married and had several children, but was conscripted into the army and fought in several civil wars during the turbulent late 80s and early 90s. He went into politics and government and now works as the government representative at a large open market, as well as holding several local government positions. Such a cool guy. He comes to church every week too.

Here's a fun one for you that are familiar with how ward councils are run. My ward council met this last week and only the Bishop, the Relief Society President, the second counselor and the Elder's Quorum President were over the age of 28. The Young Men's President, Young Women's President, Primary President, Ward Mission Leader, Clerk, Executive Secretary, Sunday School President, 2 sets of missionaries and even the high counselor were all under the age of 28. Let that one sit for a second...

I don't think the public works ministry communicates very well. My companion and I were complaining about a road full of pot holes one week and the next we were pleasantly surprised to see it being patched! The new road was actually quite nice. Two weeks later we were unable to go over the road because they were ripping it up to fix a sewer underneath. Then they just left the road ripped up with loose gravel over the hole.

I wish you could come here and go to a slum and turn in a slow circle and just take in all the difficulties these people deal with. It would change your perspective on life. I wish even more that all of you could have all the experiences that I've had over the last two years that have shown me how much God cares for us and how much he loves us. His plan is perfect and those who follow His commandments will be blessed.
 -Elder Vore

Nov 2, 2014 Srawberries and Raspberries

Conditions near the Railroad Tracks

One of the most obvious differences between Cambodia and the states (I don't even know if I can say this is one of the most obvious differences because it's all so different but it is a big difference) is the architecture. In the cramped confines of Phnom Penh there are millions of people stacked on top of each other and they all need houses to live in. Most everything is built straight up. If you want a bigger house you stack a second floor on top of the first floor. More space? Put another couple of floors up there.

 This last week I went to help a member of our ward move. His family is pretty well off and their house is five stories tall. Now, keep in mind, each story is maybe 12 feet wide and 40 feet long. Because he is a little wealthier than most, his furniture is made of real wood. I don't know how professional movers do it! We were taking huge pieces of furniture that are made from solid wood, through cramped stairwells down 2, 3 and even 4 flights of stairs.

 One time as we were halfway down one of the flights, a dresser got turned awkwardly and everyone got pushed out of the way except for me. We were moving it with six people but I ended up being the only person between the dresser and the lower floor, everyone else was holding onto the top and trying to hold it up and keep the weight off me. This actually happened several times with several different people and all different types of furniture. I wish some Khmer architects would design these stairwells with this in mind. My back was sore for two days after that! Pretty ridiculous.

One of the families we've been teaching includes some members of the family that joined the group in Phnom Penh a little later including an adopted brother, and husband. The reason that is significant is because they never learned how to read. Actually, one of them knew the ABCs pretty well and know the sounds and stuff but when you start putting it all together he got a little dizzy. We volunteered to help teach them how to read.

 Can we all ponder the irony of this for a second?  No matter how well I speak Khmer I'm always going to have an accent. I'm never going to say some of the vowels correctly. But I am going to teach them how to read? It's not the first time I've done this either. Actually the third time. In any case, I took the man that didn't know his ABCs very well and Elder Brewer got the other one and we set off. We started reciting the Khmer alphabet and he got to the 12th letter of the alphabet. When I started writing them he only recognized up to the 4th one and he could only write the first two.  After a very laborious hour, he could write any of the first 10 letters if I called it out. He was averaging only about 80% accuracy on that one too. Learning to read is REALLY hard if you've never even been to school to learn how to learn.

Due to a pretty crazy set of circumstances I now have another companion in addition to Elder Brewer. Welcome Elder Neng! Elder Neng is from Toul Tom Pung here in Phnom Penh and has been a member of the church for just a few years. He's bee on his mission for just over three months now and is always excited to get out the door and start teaching people. We are going to push each other. I think he's in one of the pictures I sent of me on a bridge over a small creek.

We were teaching about the importance of going to church as part of our lesson to an investigator the other day when another person who was listening and somewhat familiar with Christianity asked the following question, "If you believe in Christ and pray in your home on Sunday to keep the Sabbath Day holy do you still have to go to church?" I answered with the following story:

Once there was a mother who was very busy preparing for a gathering in her home. She sent her young son down the street with some money and instructions to buy some raspberries (fruit has been changed for the sake of the audience :P). The fruit store was quite a way down the road and so the boy got going. When he was still far from his destination he happened to pass a man who was selling strawberries from a cart. He stopped and bought strawberries. Then he went home and gave the strawberries to his mom.

We then talked about the little boy. Was what he did bad? No, not really. He kind of followed his mother's directions. He was willing to go do something. And who doesn't like strawberries anyway? I'm sure his mom could use the strawberries right? The problem was not that what he did was bad, it was that he was given a specific assignment and then didn't fulfill it.

In the Doctrine and Covenants section 59 verses 9-10 we read, "And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;"

Praying in faith and as a family and other such related activities are really great and extremely important, but on Sunday we have received a specific assignment from the Lord. He has asked us to go to His holy house and partake of His sacraments. And it's that simple.
That's all I've got for today. Have a great week!!!
-Elder Vore

Cambodian Housing

Delicious Fish
The reason I won't be able to make it under the 50 pound limit for suitcases.

Sunset near the church

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oct 27, 2014 Chickens and Eagles

I was talking to a new member in another branch the other day. He is a professional boxer named Khamera. Super cool guy and really excited about learning about the scriptures and the gospel. On some weekends he goes to Thailand to fight and gets his paycheck. Someone asked him how much he usually got paid and he said that it wasn't very sure. When pressed he talked about the last fight he was a part of. If he won, he got $70 (keep in mind, there are some people here that don't make that much in a month) and if he lost he got $35. BUT, the bookies told him that if he lost they would give him $350 extra. That's a significant amount of money around here. He said he tried to win (If he wins a lot they want him to fight at bigger fights so it can be even better than the short term loss) but the other guy won. Nice consolation prize though. The sports scene in Southeast Asia is a little different than it is in America.

Earlier in the week I was teaching a group of children and their grandparents in one of the slums off the railroad tracks. Such nice humble people who are enduring trials that I can't even really comprehend. As the lesson came to a close, the grandfather asked one of his grandchildren to say the closing prayer. She is six years old though she looks like she's about four, keep that in mind. In her prayer she asked that God would, "Please have my mom stop playing cards and gambling. She doesn't need to play cards, she can just play with me and my sisters instead. And help my dad with his job so that he can keep this one and not lose his job. And help him stop drinking." I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Poor little kid.

We had a fun activity in English Class on Wednesday. In order to get our students talking and excited we taught them how to play mafia. Really, what we were trying to do is get them to argue with each other in English. It was pretty fun. Being in a classroom setting can get people to do things that they would never think of doing in the real life. If the teacher tells you to do something, you just try and do your best!  We had a lot of fun. Not much to that story actually.

I want to tell a story real quick. There once was a man who raised chickens. He had several hundred chickens and spent a good amount of time taking care of them. One day he noticed an egg that seemed a little larger than normal. He however, did not pay too much attention to it and put it in the pile with the other eggs to be incubated. Several weeks later when this egg hatched, it was not a baby chick inside, but a baby eagle.

This eagle had an interesting upbringing. It was born in a chicken coop, lived with chickens, and was fed and treated like a chicken, and so it acted like a chicken. It ate feed with the chickens, scratched in the dirt with the chickens, slept with the chickens etc. Eventually though, the eagle got a little bigger.
One of the older children noticed this and told his father, "Dad, there's an eagle in the pen with the chickens." The father chuckled and told his son, "Son, that's not an eagle it's a chicken. It eats like a chicken, it walks like a chicken it acts like a chicken. Therefore it is a chicken."

The son set out to prove that the eagle was indeed an eagle and so he took the eagle up on top of the chicken coop and pointed its head off to the horizon and whispered to it, "You are an eagle. Fly!" The eagle looked up at the horizon, down at the chicken coop and then hopped down and continued to scratch with the chickens. The son dragged the eagle to the roof of the house and had the exact same result. "See?" said the father. "I told you it was a chicken."

Undeterred, the son took the eagle to the top of a mountain, far from the chicken coop below. He went to the edge of a cliff and pointed the eagle's head at the horizon and whispered, "You are an eagle. Fly!" And the eagle opened it's wings and flew.

Sometimes we forget that as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father we have infinite potential. If we spend our time in less worthy pursuits we will never reach our full potential. We will never learn how to fly if we spend all of our time scratching with the chickens. Fortunately, a loving father in heaven has prepared a plan for us. When we follow his commandments we will have real growth in our lives and we will be able to reach our full potential.
Love y'all!
Elder Vore 

Oct 20, 2014 Everyone is a Critic

I've had several experiences recently that have both been a little humbling and a little funny. To preface this, some back ground is necessary. There are different dialects of Khmer spoker here in Cambodia. Actually, they're not even really different dialects, more like different accents. In America when we think of a country accent compared to a city accent we might think that the city accent is clearer or more correct (I'm imagining people from small towns in the south compared to people from suburbs near big cities in the east). In Cambodia its a little different. The big city accent is slurred and unclear. Among other things, Rs are dropped, sub-consonants are routinely ignored and tones are kind of thrown into a language that isn't actually supposed to have tones. Those from the provinces, especially in the north like in  Batdombong, speak very clearly. All of the letters are pronounced the way they are written and their speech is almost clipped.

I've spent my entire mission in the city at this point, except for 7 months in Baku where they speak like those from Phnom Penh but even more pronounced. My speaking has been learned from those who supposedly don't speak very clearly. I'm very good at parroting what those around me say, and I pick up accents a lot better than I pick up words, reading or writing. Basically, I sound a lot like a Khmer that was born in the city.

 My companion is much younger in the mission than me, but he is also a very good listener and good at parroting and picking up accents. He however, has spent the last 6 months in Batdombong, an area that is known for its clear speakers. In the last couple of weeks as we have talked to people around our area we have been complimented on how good our Khmer is, especially my companion. Boy, they love how clearly he talks! "You (pointing to Elder Brewer) speak very beautifully," they say. "Much better than him (pointing to me). His words all run together and aren't pretty". I've spent all this time working on speaking exactly how Khmers do and in the end what do I get? Everyone is a critic. :P

This last Saturday night we went to visit one of the families we teach and were greeted by a somewhat pitiful sight. They were in the process of adding a floor to their one room house so that there would be enough room for everyone to lay down at night. Crossbeams were placed just above their heads (I have to duck to walk in but they're a little shorter than me so they're fine), floorboards were laid on the second floor and they started to lay bricks. The roof was to be raised just a couple of feet (the second floor is going to have a really low ceiling) and they were replacing the tin for the roof.

 In this process it was necessary for them to take the roof completely off for a few hours while the cement dried and stuff like that and then put the new roof on. Their sister also happened to be moving and had put all of her stuff in their house. Then it rained. Without a roof the rain was particularly frustrating. All available tarps and plastic bags were put over the recently laid wooden floorboards that would warp if wet. All of their exposed belongings sat in the rain. When we showed up they were just kind of staring at everything. Clothes, belongings, and construction materials filled the house. Only two of them were sitting (on bricks) while the rest of them stood. There wasn't enough space for them to sit. We stood just outside the front door as rain came down softly. I was fully expecting them to be pretty down but they were incredibly positive about things. We laughed together about their bad luck for a good 15 minutes before we left. Sunday morning we went to help them clean out their house and lay the bricks so the roof could get put on. 

I was really blown away by how optimistic they were. Nothing was getting them down! I guess we don't have to react to challenges negatively, we can just laugh it off. I really felt like I learned a lot from them.

Elder Brewer and I ran into a lady who was collecting recyclables to sell in front of our house as we went home this week. She dropped her cart when she saw us and started begging for money. That was a little uncomfortable because we aren't allowed to give money to beggars, but Elder Brewer had a couple of energy bars and he gave them to her. She was pretty drunk and reacted a little illogically. She threw the energy bars down and said, "I don't want these American cakes, I want Khmer food or money! Don't you have any rice?" She certainly wasn't very grateful and didn't seem to understand that the energy bars would help her a lot.

Later I was thinking about the Atonement. Sometimes I see people who learn about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and then choose not to follow Him or his gospel because the Atonement is not the gift they wanted. They wanted money. They wanted instant gratification. They wanted entertainment. They wanted rice. 

Sometimes we act like that. We want God to solve our problems. We want him to tell us what to do. We want Him to guide us financially. Instead, He has given us the Atonement. When we learn about and apply the Atonement in our lives, God will bless us, though not necessarily the way we want Him to. Often times it would help us a great deal if we would just focus on the things that God wants us to focus on. Jacob taught, "seek not to counsel the Lord but to take counsel from His hand." So, the next time God gives you a blessing or a challenge, try to apply that. I'll try too. Love y'all
Elder Vore

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oct 13, 2014 Some Things are Not as They Seem

While leaving the church the other day I was the given the phone number of someone who had come into the church and said they wanted to learn English and were willing to listen to a message about Jesus Christ as well. I called and was greeted by a woman who said her house was on a street near the church. I told her to stand on the side of the road and flag me down when I passed. I also told her I was wearing a white shirt and tie. I went all the way down that road looking for a 20 something woman who looked like she was looking for something and got nothing. At the end of the road I called her again and she said that she hadn't seen me, but that she was now sitting by a certain tree near a parked car. That was actually a decent enough landmark so we turned around and headed there. Once there I was somewhat shocked to find that sheover the phone and the wind was blowing so it was kind of har was a he (some kind of weird problem with his voice), and he was pretty shocked that I was American (we were talking d to hear). So, he was looking for an older Khmer man on a motorcycle and I was looking for a woman. But at least we found each other!

Hey! I have a new companion! His name is Elder Brewer. Elder Brewer hails from Wildomar, in southern California and is the 5th of 7 siblings! Elder Brewer likes long walks on the beach in his bare feet and puppies. :D Ok, maybe putting words in his mouth. We're getting along super well and he is a big singer! There are going to be 4 Elders in our small apartment for a little while and 3 of us are really big singers! We went off on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in impromptu 3 part and it was awesome! I might send y'all a recording or something.  

I want to tell a story about a woman named Panny. She was just 49 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer. Because the health care isn't the best in Cambodia she went to Vietnam to find better a better hospital. In Vietnam she got some bad news and the doctors told her they didn't know what to do. She cried in her hospital room and one of the doctors gave her a bible and suggested that it could help her find peace. She opened the book but couldn't read it because it was the wrong language. The Bible laid on her chest overnight and for some reason, when she woke up she was feeling much better. She scheduled a later visit, got some painkillers and went back home with a determination to find out more about Christ. She contacted a cousin of hers who is a member of our congregation in Ta Khmao and started coming to church.  For several weeks she studied the scriptures very carefully and wanted very much to be baptized. She had a very firm belief that if she followed Christ, He could cure her cancer. The week before she was to be baptized she went back to Vietnam where they told her that there was nothing they could do and that she was going to die in a matter of months. She was crushed. 

After staying at her home for several days she decided that she needed to keep following the commandments that she had learned about with the missionaries and received baptism. She did so and invited her whole family to come with her. She dragged her husband to worship services every week for several months. Over the last few weeks her health worsened and she went in and out of a coma. Two weeks ago was fast and testimony week where members are invited to stand up and give their own personal testimonies. She wanted to get up and speak but literally could not leave her bed. She told her husband that he had to go to church and speak for her. He did. She was in a lot of pain before she went into a coma one last time and passed away.

At the funeral this last Tuesday I was moved to tears. More so than anyone I have ever known personally, Panny kept the faith until the very end. Her husband broke into sobs when he told us that one of the very last things she did was sit up and tell him that she loved him and that he had to get baptized. It was almost hard to believe.  She made me think about a talk I read recently by Elder Dennis E. Simmons called 'But If Not'. He wrote: 

' Faith is not bravado, not just a wish, not just a hope. True faith is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—confidence and trust in Jesus Christ that leads a person to follow Him. 

Centuries ago, Daniel and his young associates were suddenly thrust from security into the world—a world foreign and intimidating. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow down and worship a golden image set up by the king, a furious Nebuchadnezzar told them that if they would not worship as commanded, they would immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. “And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” 

The three young men quickly and confidently responded, “If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.” ....  then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” That is a statement of true faith. '

I really felt like Om Panny exemplified this. She probably told me over a hundred times that if she followed Christ that she would be healed of her cancer, I think she really believed that; but when she was on death bed she was going out of her way to find some way to serve the God she loved. 

' Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.

Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has. '

I believe that will bless all those who truly believe in him. I love you guys.
Elder Vore

Monday, October 6, 2014

Oct 5, 2014 Be Perfected in Him

One of the activities we run at the church here is a free English Class. The main purpose of the class is to try and find people who want to learn more about the gospel, but it's also a really great opportunity to help a lot of people who need to be able to speak English to be competitive in their job. We have been spending a considerable amount of time lately working on making our English classes more organized and conversation based but we also realized that it wasn't doing as much good as it could be doing because we simply weren't teaching very many people. So, we decided to do some advertising.

Several months ago we made signs to hold on the side of the road by the church but Elder Martinson and I felt that the signs we being underused, so we encouraged all the missionaries serving in branches that operate out of our building to go out and hold the English class signs whenever they were sitting at the church waiting for appointments. This worked really well. We had many people stop and ask for information and many more that were interested in learning more about the gospel or joining in with our worship services. However, the first week after we started this advertising push we only had 7 people come to English Class due to a Khmer holiday (we average around 55 in three classes). We decided to just laugh it off and keep trying.

 This last week we had 123 show up to class. The 70 or so that came for the first time packed themselves into the foyer where we had only one sign in sheet (we quickly made 5 copies and got another table). When you double the amount of students in your class it gets a lot harder to teach. And I mean a lot harder. We can't just lecture either. The whole point of the class is to get them talking and practicing their English with native speakers there to help them. We had only three classrooms ready and only 3 lessons prepared and enough worksheets for about half of them. It was pretty crazy. We're hoping to split into 5 classes this week. Ideal class sizes would be around 15, but that doesn't seem feasible right now..

Random side note, 6 of those 70 or so new people came to sacrament meeting with my ward and several more went to the other two wards. Pretty cool.
I've been thinking a lot about becoming perfect lately. In Matthew 5:48 Christ taught us to be "perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." This command to be perfect is repeated a number of times throughout the standard works including to Abraham (Genesis 17:1) and the Nephites (3 Nephi 12:48; 27:27). It's a matter of doctrine that "the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men, save e shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Nephi 3:7)", and so it follows that He truly does expect us to be perfect. How can we, imperfect "natural men" (Mosiah 3:19), expect to be perfect like our Father in Heaven? There are a lot of possible answers to that question and I want to share an example from the sporting world to illustrate just one.

In 1984 the Miami Dolphins were the the best team in football. They went undefeated, 14-0, in the regular season and won three straight post-season games including the Super Bowl. The first and only ever "perfect season". Now that's not to say that the team was perfect or even that their so-called perfect season was perfect, I'm sure they had their ups and downs, but their imperfections were swallowed up in a greater victory, that of overcoming all opponents, all obstacles, and taking home the championship.

When we got baptized and made sacred covenants, you and I joined a team, and unlike the 1984 Miami Dolphins who had no perfect players on their roster, our team captain is perfect. He is Jesus Christ. He is our exemplar. He is our savior.

During His mortal life nearly 2,000 years ago, the Savior, Jesus Christ, performed an act known as the atonement that is central to all human history (The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles). Bruce R. McConkie wrote, " We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name" (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane).

You and I and all of us who believe on Christ's name and show that we are willing "to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places... [by] being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that [we] have entered into a covenant with him (Mosiah 18:9-10)" have joined His team. When we are weak, he is strong. When we fall, He lifts us up. Though we will sin, when we feel godly sorrow and repent, He takes those sins upon Himself, the sins of all mankind, and He suffers, but He is strong and we are cleansed. Our team is not perfect, but we are undefeated.

President Boyd K. Packer taught, "it was understood from the beginning that in mortality we would fall short of being perfect. It was not expected that we would live without transgressing one law or another (The Atonement)". Rather, the plan was that we could be saved by grace, after all that we could do (2 Nephi 25:23). So we have a disclaimer. We cannot sit on the bench and watch Christ save the day. Even though we are imperfect, unprofitable servants, we have a personal responsibility to follow Him with all our heart, might mind and strength. Our Heavenly Father may not expect us to be perfect now, but He certainly expects us to try. When we try with all our heart to follow Christ's perfect example, we can be made perfect through His atoning blood.

At the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni makes one final plea to all who read: "... come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ".

To those of you who have joined Christ's team through baptism by immersion by proper authority, be a team player. Follow the rules. When you follow the commandments that Christ has set for you, you will never lose another game.

For those who have not yet joined this team, and especially my friends who may be reading this, I encourage you to learn more about it. We do not capture those who walk into the chapel and lead them captive to the baptismal font. Rather, we welcome the curious and those seeking for more. I promise that all those who learn about and apply the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will see that it is good and it will bring them happiness. Only after learning about and applying the teachings of the church could one make an educated decision about whether or not one should decide to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Come and be perfected in Christ.
-Elder Vore

Elder Vore and Elder Martinson

With Chan Finel, Sokpheakday Kong, and Nimol Kosal

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sept 28, 2014 Translating

Even though I've never been in an accident, I'm kind of glad they make us wear bike helmets out here. Sometimes I'm biking around at night and a branch just wacks me in the head! See? Helmets are useful." -Elder Martinson

Zone Conference  September 2014
Translating is kind of hard. You would think that once you know two languages you could just say whatever you want to in either language and just go with it, but it's not quite that easy for some reason. This last Tuesday we had Zone Conference and Elder Martinson and I were asked to translate. I'm happy to help of course but every time I do live translation I feel like I get nothing out of what is said. In one ear and out of my mouth with no time to process the meaning. For example, I was asked to translate for President Moon as he was doing training on how to teach new converts and help them grow in the gospel and I feel like I don't remember anything of what he taught! Too bad...

My companion was translating near the beginning of the conference, and almost missed it when President Moon made a very important announcement. We are opening new proselyting areas in the provinces of Porsat and Prei Veng! For a number of years our proselyting strategy in Cambodia has been all about staying near centers of strength. In the last few months we've been moving further out and opening new areas (like when I was in Baku all those months ago) and now missionaries will be heading to two new provinces! It's a pretty bold step. Everyone is kind of hoping that they are the ones that get to open the new area, we'll see next week!

I saw a cat catch a mouse this week. It's not a myth, cats really play with their food before eating it! Weird. I felt pretty bad for the poor little mouse. There are a lot of rodents around here, some bigger than others. Sure, we have your regular house mice like in America, but we also have huge street rats. Those things are literally the size of cats. On Sunday one of our members told a story about a time when her family was raising dogs to sell and one of her chores was to guard the puppies and make sure that the rats didn't eat them. That seems to go against the natural order of things...

Had another funny experience relating to Zone Conference. We got a last second assignment to set up the catering for the event. Usually that wouldn't be a big deal but because the Conference was being held on the day of a major holiday in Cambodia, many businesses were closed. Elder Martinson and I went casually to our first three choices and found that none of them would be able to cater the following day. We continued on to two other restaurants, but were starting to get a little worried. We kept teaching people like normal and then in between teaching activities we would check a couple of restaurants and see if they would cater for us. We finally found a caterer and agreed on a deal 10 minutes before we needed to tell the Assistants what was going to be for lunch at the conference. Looking for a caterer is number 193 on the list of things I never thought I'd do on my mission. Number 194 is tying balloons to the ankles of 13 year old children.. I feel like I've accumulated a lot of random experiences and skills on my mission. Some are weirder than others :P
Eating lunch with a member

Just one last thought on food. I've found that pretty much anything is edible if you fry it and put soy sauce on it. That's it for me guys! Sorry the email is a little short today. Love you!
Elder Vore

It flooded this past week...this is the lower road down by the railroad.  It used to be a road--now it's a river.  Wading through black water was disgusting!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sept 22, 2014 The Pursuit of Happiness


For hundreds of years now, colonists from all over the word have been drawn to the United States, "the land of opportunity". We always learn in school how lucky we are and how thankful we should be to our founding fathers and for soldiers and other such figures, but it's really hard to understand how good we have it in the USA until you leave.

About three or four times a week I make a visit to the slums on the railroad tracks to visit our members there. I should probably take pictures to help you understand what kind of a place it is, but my camera is broken, so I'll have to describe it. As you come up to the tracks, the first thing you notice is the smell. It smells like a dumpster. Rotting food, human waste and everything they throw out just sits outside of their houses. The garbage truck doesn't come down this way. Everyone here literally just lives in their own trash. It's strangely not very green and leafy around here, probably a result of building the railroad. Look around and that's the first thing you see. The tracks.

 People are all over it actually. In America you're not even allowed to get close. The kids play in the tracks and in the dirt. They're not wearing much, and they look dirty. Most of them "shower" when it rains. Just stand under the water that runs from the roof with some soap. No one ever gets really clean. If you look around a little more you'll see the adults. It's always shocking how many of them there are. The women gamble, playing cards while sitting and watching the children run around. Most everyone is drinking or smoking, often both. Men sit around in groups with cheap glasses of rice alcohol, it only takes 15 cents or so to get drunk on that stuff. The houses sit on stilts for the most part, dangling over the waste below. Walking through the filth to the houses takes some getting used to. The kids run around bare foot. They would be in school if their parents had a little steadier of an income.

It's a hopeless place. It's shocking, and sad. I can look down the line of shacks and see four generations of the poverty cycle. Almost none of the children are getting any type of education or vocational training that is going to help them escape. The NGOs are great, but we've got a long way to go until we see any actual growth. Most of the residents want to be out and working to make their lives better but they can't even get started. They don't even know where to start. Get a job? How about the factories? If you don't have a ride there then you can't work there. Many of them open their homes and sell things. Vegetables, snacks, cokes, fish, but they're barely getting by. Most of them don't even know how to hold a job if they ever got one. They may be free to pursue happiness, but they're struggling just to survive. 

On a somewhat related note, my language skills have, in a way, regressed as I've been in this area. Since the beginning I've learned this language by listening and parroting. The longer I spend in the city and especially in poorer areas, the more I am surrounded by those who don't actually speak Khmer very clearly. Imagine if you dropped a foreigner into "the hood" and had him learn English. Check up on him in a few months and his language skills would be really interesting. That's basically what I've done. For the most part, it's what all of the Elders all over the world do, it's one of the main reasons we can actually speak the languages that we are assigned to speak. It can occasionally mean that I don't exactly understand the words that are coming out of my mouth. I'm kind of like a toddler when I speak. Sometimes people we talk to laugh at us. They laugh, not necessarily because it's funny, but because the words coming out of my mouth seem very incongruent with my skin color and dress. I'm kind of rambling at this point, not really sure where I was going with that.

One of our recent convert's names is Om Vanna. She's in her 60s and lost her entire family during the Pol Pot regime years ago. For the last 30 years or so she's been working as a nanny for a family that is extremely rich. Occasionally she would take a break and walk around outside the mansion and that's where she got to know Chompei, who is also a recent member. They learned about the gospel together in Chompei's little shack on the side of the road and decided to get baptized. Om Vanna's employers aren't big fans of Christianity. Vanna was aware of that and she never told them where she was going when she left the house. Every time she goes to church or comes to read the scriptures with us, she ducks out secretively. We weren't fully aware of the situation until she kind of stopped coming to everything. Apparently her employers have now completely forbidden her from doing anything that relates to Jesus Christ. It wouldn't be as big of a deal if she wasn't basically a part of the family. She has lived with them for 30 years and doesn't have anywhere to go if they put her out.  It's unlikely that you or I will ever have such persecution because of our religious beliefs, but a lesson can and should be learned all the same. 

Christ taught, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)"

There will be a time where we need to stand up for what is right. The world does not always appreciate or support good morals, chastity, or religion. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland so movingly said, "Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. A long history of inspired voices, including... President Thomas S. Monson, point you toward the path of Christian discipleship. It is a strait path, and it is a narrow path without a great deal of latitude at some points, but it can be thrillingly and successfully traveled, “with … steadfastness in Christ, … a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” In courageously pursuing such a course, you will forge unshakable faith, you will find safety against ill winds that blow, even shafts in the whirlwind, and you will feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer, upon whom if you build your unflagging discipleship, you cannot fall." (See "The Cost and Blessings of Discipleship, General Conference April 2014)
Love you guys!!
Elder Vore

                                                                     Me eating crabs!