About 2 years ago I sent this first email from the MTC: "We are in the same room for 9 to 12 hours a day, studying the scriptures and speaking the language. I never thought I would love so much to study the scriptures!! The MTC is such a spiritually powerful place and I'm glad for it." After spending three months studying for 10 hours a day, I came here to Cambodia where we study for 3 hours and then proselyte for 10. It's not easy either. I remember hearing stats like this before my mission and thinking, "Boy, that sounds like it's not going to be very fun. I guess it's just one of those things you have to do." Now, a couple years later I can look back at these past two years and honestly say that I have never had so much fun in my whole life. I wouldn't trade a second of my time here. I want to direct this at my younger siblings and cousins real quick. Be excited for your mission. It's going to be awesome. I don't know what the Lord has in store for you, and it's possible that you will have a very different experience than I have had, but you will love every minute of it. I think people should join our church just so that they can have the experience of serving a mission (does that seem weird to anyone?).
I was looking back at some old emails and thought it would be fun to just send some stuff from the last two years to everyone. It's really hard to summarize such a long time, but these were a few fun things:
Frogs are pretty common out here. They're all over the ground. They get sold in the markets- actually side note real quick, when they sell frogs in the market, the seller skins the frog and chops it's head off. The frogs are still alive at this point. They jump around skinless and headless until people buy them. It's a little disturbing the first time you see it. --Yeah anyway, the frogs were delicious. (Aug 2014)
I am in the most gorgeous place I have ever seen. Pictures, postcards, landscapes, there is no comparison. The last 35 minutes or so of travel time to Baku are spent biking through rice paddys in the middle of nowhere. Everything is so green and beautiful. It looks like a painting. It looks like someone should paint Adam and Eve in the foreground and leave the rest as is. I had forgotten, after nearly 3 months in the city, that Cambodia is a rain forest. I relearned how beautiful nature can be and that there is no greater artist than God himself. (July 2013)
Also, we asked him if we could help Chok with anything and he told us that he would be trimming his chickens' beaks the following morning and invited us to help. We eagerly accepted the service project and the following morning we trimmed 2,400 chickens' beaks, and I got chicken poop all over myself. Just bucketloads of fun! :D (December 2013)
I met someone this week who had no idea who Jesus Christ was. Like, I know we're in the middle of nowhere, in a country where 97% of everybody is Buddhist but seriously, I was shocked. We bought a water bottle from him and I was explaining that we were missionaries who preach about Jesus Christ. I explained a little more about our message and then asked him if he had any questions. He said he he liked our ideas about how families were important but was really confused about who this Jesus Christ person was. It was a very interesting conversation. (Jan 2014)
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. (Sept 2014)
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. (December 2014)
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. (November 2014)
We went home a little late in a big group, giving rides to several members who didn't want to make the trip the next morning. It wasn't until Sunday night when Elder Decker and Elder Mok were talking about different foods that I realized one of the dishes we had eaten the night before was filled with dog meat (Fun fact: dog meat in Khmer is sike piseh, which means 'special meat'). Some people in Cambodia are a little uneasy eating dog meat (that might come as a shock but it's true) and it's really expensive so it was kind of weird that we ate it accidentally. Apparently they did kind of announce it but 4 of us missed that little detail. (October 2013)
He sells stuff outside his house and we sat and talked with him for a good 30 minutes before trying to share a gospel related message. He responded to that with a really long comparison involving missionaries and monks (who he represented as suckers) that had to cross a very tall narrow bridge (a plate) but couldn't get along and started fighting (he begins to bang the suckers together) and then fell to their deaths (tossed them to the ground). He explained that this was the reason he couldn't meet with us. I told him that I didn't understand and he told me that it was because I was white and asked my companion if he understood. After shaking his head the man picked up one of the suckers and unwrapped it and said, ''See? It's broken! Buddhists and Christians will only get along if they leave each other alone.'' You sure meet some strange people when you do nothing but wander around trying to talk to people. (Sept 2013)
The trip from Baku to our house takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to bike. The beaten stretch of highway between Ta Khmau and Baku is over traveled, has no lines or speed limits and is full of pot holes. The trip is dark and the large trucks are intimidating. Sometimes it's nice to see a car coming because the headlights illuminate our path but as the car comes closer we are blinded and when it passes we are plunged back into darkness. Saturday night we left Baku after a very fun activity. Our warm hearts quickly cooled as we set out on our long journey back. For the first 5 minutes or so the traffic was normal, which is not a good thing. Riding on that road is scary! However, after a few minutes a very interesting thing happened. A very large, very slow moving semi-truck pulled up behind us and began to follow us. At first I tried to pull off to the side to let him pass but it soon became clear that if anything, he was actually moving slower than us and simultaneously acting as a fantastic flashlight. The road in front of us was bright and the pot hole strewn highway was suddenly very easy to navigate. Even more, oncoming traffic that would usually come to the middle of the road (and uncomfortably close) to avoid the patchy edges of the road stayed far from us, intimidated by the 20 ton truck behind us. The truck traveled with us for over 30 minutes before passing us and moving on. I had a lot of time to think about this (there just isn't much to do when you're riding your bike for hours on end) and my thoughts kept turning to our life on Earth. Life is a long, dark, harrowing journey, full of pot holes and oncoming traffic. When we travel down this road alone, it is difficult and even dangerous. However, we have been promised that when we follow the example of Jesus Christ, we will be blessed with His Spirit, who will guide us. (Aug 2013)
Do you want to know who makes your Aeropostale shirts? I do. In Cambodia. After the designs on the shirts are printed they have to cut of all the excess string and some other plastic stuff. It's not hard, but it has to be done by hand, so they give out batches of 100 shirts to people so they can cut all the things off and then give them back for $1.50. It usually takes about a day and a half to do a batch so it's not very good pay but if they are just sitting at home watching the kids anyway it's an easy supplement to a family's income. And so, on Thursday when we were visiting Sokhuan and she was doing that we joined in. So the next time you're wearing your little T-shirt remember that someone was paid about $1 a day to make it and it might have been me! (June 2013)
I know I mostly write about fun, weird or new things, but most of what has happened on my mission has to do with the people I've met and the changes I've seen in their lives. I have taught a lot of people here in a lot of different settings. In most of those settings, I was learning as much from my students as they were from me. I feel like the most important lesson I've learned through all this is that the Atonement changes lives. Those that are willing to follow the gospel and repent and change their lives because of Christ's Atonement will be happier than those who don't. It's a pretty simple formula actually. Those who aren't willing to expend the effort to follow God's commandments will not get the same results as those that do. I love God's plan for us. It truly is a plan of happiness. I have seen the difference between homes where the gospel is faithfully and fully followed and homes where the gospel is ignored. It is different. I love you guys. I hope everyone reading this has both enjoyed and been uplifted by my emails to y'all. I'll see you in two weeks.