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!

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