Sunday, August 31, 2014

Letter # 66 ( Aug. 31, 2014)

Sorry this letter is going to be a little shorter because I wanted to write mom for her birthday. So, again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!!!! 

This week has been one of the more challenging weeks of my mission. But nothing to stress about. Challenge = growth. I prayed a couple weeks ago for the opportunity to really push the development of my Christlike Attributes through these last few months of the mission. I want my growth to peak instead of taper. That is always kind of a dangerous thing to pray for, but I know it will be for the overall good.  As a result I've shed a few tears, gained a little weight, added some acne, and learned a lot. I am so greatful for this never-ending molding experience. I love the word "refining." We have such an amazing opportunity to continue to change and grow. 

We spent most of our time this week trying to find new investigators. I say try because people are literally running away from us, hiding from us, telling their friends not to talk to us, and lying to us. A phrase that Sister Natarte always used to say comes to mind, "Do you want Salvation, or Not?" But everything will be okay, because I know that I am doing everything I can, and am working each day to work with the spirit to be guided to the people who are ready. We did have a miracle again on Saturday night. (I don't know why each week is the same. 1 week of desperate, endless searching. Then a miracle on Saturday night before church. I feel so bad complaining, some people have their whole mission like this without the huge miracles I get to see. I still have so much to learn.) It is a little hard here in missions like these, because there is a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations for our "outward results." Getting text reminders about how low our numbers are and how we need to repent if we don't have a baptism each week, is always a nice slice in the heart each week. On Saturday night, we were looking for more investigators by searching for some former investigators and we saw a member talking to a group of friends. We stopped and talked to them and it turns out one of them was from a family of all members (less-active) but had never been baptized. She is 16 and remembers going to church when she was really little, but when she turned 6, they started going to the Catholic church again.  We invited her to church the next day with the member who was talking to them and the member committed to go with her. On Sunday, lo and behold, This Sister Geanbie came to church. We were so excited to see her. We had scheduled an appointment with her whole family that afternoon, but when we went yesterday, only sister Geanbie was there to listen to us.  We taught her and we realized how smart and ready she is for the gospel. She basically bore her testimony about the spirit that she felt during sacrament meeting, and said even though she had been going to the other church, she felt empty/off like something was missing.  We finished the message of the restoration and after answering all of her questions, I asked her if I could then ask her a question. I asked her if she would follow her Savior, Jesus Christ, and be baptized in His church? She committed through her tears and accepted October 4 as a baptismal date. I know I am so spoiled to be in such a sacred part of our saviors Garden. There are so many more miracles and people waiting for us to find them. I am excited to continue on in this work. It brings such a spirit of peace and comfort as we help others on their path to eternal happiness.

Each day we see so much sin and sadness, but there is also so much joy and happiness. It depends on us, what we want to see. (is that correct english?) I love you all so much and especially for all that you have taught me. Thank you mom for teaching me about this gospel and the way to really find happiness no matter what the circumstances are. I know that you are the best mom in the entire world!

Love, Sister Smoot

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Letter # 65 (Aug 24, 2014)

Hello Family! 
This week has been good. A little bit hard since we are new to this side of the ward, but still exciting.  We have been trying to find all of the old investigators (they didn't leave any maps, the area book is not updated, the area consists of lots and lots of walking through fields). I'm not complaining, maybe I'll lose some weight before I get home :) It's been a fun challenge to find everyone, but it's been fun to meet some new people along the way. Our goal is always to find new investigators EVERY DAY.  It seems every person we have talked to this week has said, nope, I'm really Catholic. (Katholiko gid ako). But even some of those people have started listening to us.  We have just been praying every day for an opportunity to find some families and get the work really moving. I'm not sure what was going on in this area before we got here.... but it was pretty stagnant. I was able to receive some revelation about how to better use the members in the area, but it will take a few weeks to see the results from it. In the mean time, we are just talking to EVERYONE. Whenever we have a new person who is not at all interested, we ask them for referrals, and go find those people, then those people are not interested and we go find their referrals. It's a lot of fun... with not a whole lot of success yet. But we are working each day to better improve our finding tactics.  As a result of our hard work this week with limited results, we had a huge miracle on Saturday Night. 

A couple weeks ago, our ward had a Reactivation day. All the active members go out and find all the less active members and invite them to church. I was paired with another relief society member and assigned in the Elders area (which is our area now) and we went to the wealthiest less active member in the ward. The Elders had never visited her. She went on a mission when she was 21 somewhere near Manila, Philippines. She and her husband and her two olders kids are members, but they went less active about 5 years ago, so her younger kids are not members.  When we went to her house her cousin who is a Catholic Nun from Italy, showed up at the same time, so she told us she was busy. We didn't get to teach her, but I remembered the house.  (They are so wealthy. They have a car, a maid, and the children go to a really expensive private school and only speak English).  Well, on Saturday, almost all of our appointments fell through. No one was home when they said they would be home, and a few people even frankly told us never to go to their home. Lets just say I was a little stressed about how the day was going. But on Saturday night, I kept thinking about this Less-Active family. I was a little apprehensive about going because of the last time, and because rich people are kind of intimidating and I was already a little bruised, but I know that if it was on my mind, it was from the we went to their house.  It was late (around 7:00), so I was worried the kids were already asleep, but when we walked up to the gate, the oldest son was sitting out on the porch playing an electronic game. We called out to him and he ran inside to get his mom. She seemed calm and happy and invited us in. I figured we would share and invite her to church, but before we could speak (because it's hard to speak to people in English), she invited us to eat dinner with their family because they were just about to eat. I was trying to politely decline, but she insisted. So we ate an extremely delicious Tinola with some fresh Rambotan. While eating, she said that earlier that day, her boys (she has 5 boys and no girls from the ages of 3 to 15)  asked her if they could go to church the next day. She then realized that she too missed church. The youngest boy who is only 3 told her that they needed blessings, so they needed to go to church. They had prepared to go to church and were planning on asking us at church to visit their family so that the younger kids (9 and 10) could be baptized. She started crying as she talked about her goals to be sealed in the temple and be active again. As we shared the message of the restoration, she started crying again talking about the sweet spirit she felt and how she missed it so much. I am so grateful that I listened to the prompting to visit their family. Even though it's hard to teach in English, it is so fun to teach a family of all boys and their loving mom. (Their dad is working out of the country). I love missionary work! I love the spirit!

Another Miracle! While I was typing this letter, a little boy came up to me and was reading the letter as I typed. He doesn't know english, but he was just watching the screen. He mumbled something quietly and I asked him what he said. He said he wants to go to church on Sunday. He said his brothers and sisters are "mormons" and he wants to be mormon too. I just wrote down his address, so we will visit them this week.  OH, how glorious are these miracles. He is so cute, Brother Joshua. 

I love you all and hope you are following all the commandments! They truly bring miracles and blessings and peace and happiness. If you don't believe me, test it out! I love you!
Love, Sister Smoot

Monday, August 18, 2014

Letter #64 (August 17, 2014) added pix!

Our exchanges with the other sisters. My companion from the MTC, Sister Nielsen is training Sister Vaitaki. I was with Sister Vaitaki (from Tonga and made me miss my companion sister Fotofili. But in a good way, they are so amazing). It was fun to see Sister Nielsen again. She is such an amazing missionary! sister Madronio on the end.

So this week was really good and on fire, and ended up a little hard for me. Our bishop here in Paglaum is one of the most supportive and spiritual bishops here in the Bacolod Mission. As a result, he received a revelation that our area was too dangerous for sisters and had us switch areas with the Elders in our ward. So we gave up three family baptisms and tons of progressing investigators and received an un-updated area book with only 4 children investigators. I was a little stressed to say the least and a little sad to leave such wonderfully prepared people. But I had a realization last night and this morning during my personal study. We get to help change both sides of the ward. Not only were we able to help find and bless those families who are progressing, but we get to go find those people who are hungry for the truth of happiness on the other side of the ward. Not to mention, we get to meet and work with all of the other members in the ward. This might be a more unifying blessing as all four missionaries will now know the entire ward and all of its members. I am really excited to continue working my hardest and find some families in my new area.  Sister Madronio have been more unified this week as we have set some new plans and goals for our proselyting situation this week. We are energized with the SPIRIT of Potential!

But this last week I will tell you about a few investigators that I will miss, but I'm so grateful we were able to bless! 

Rudy. I found Rudy while visiting less-actives with a member. This was back in my first week here when Sister De Castro was just sick. I was going around with a Relief Society member, trying to meet everybody. I saw Rudy in front of his house, attached to his grand daughter's house (His grand daughter is a less-active member). Brother Rudy was smoking, but I walked over to him and offered to give him a prayer. He told me that he wasn't interested, that he was catholic. But I told him, it's just a prayer. He let me pray.  The next couple of weeks, I was then with sister Madronio. We saw him again out in a trail planting some sweet potatoes. We offered to share with him about God's message to him. He kind of caught interest and slowly agreed. We started talking to him about his family and found out that his wife died of cancer a few years ago, and he just cried as he talked about how much he loved her. Over the next week we taught him the Plan of Salvation, Restoration, Gospel, and Word of Wisdom! He smoked 30 cigerettes and drank 4 cups of coffee every day. But after only 3 day of teaching Word of Wisdom, he is now down to 0 coffee and 1 stick. We pray and hope that the elders will continue to encourage and help him through this miraculous journey. He accepted Sept. 13 for his Baptismal date. Yesterday at church he told us after sacrament meeting. "Katawhay gid kaayo and balatyagan ko subong. Salamat gid sa sining nga oportunidad. Salamat gid. Salamat gid. Nakilala ko na si Jesucristo." Which kind of means: " My feelings right now are very very peaceful/good right now. Thank you for this oportunitiy. Thank you. Thank you. I have now realized who Jesus Christ is. " There is not really a direct translation. But needless to say,he is ready for baptism and ready to change his life for the Lord. He reads the book of mormon EVERY DAY and always asks questions from his reading. In our last appointment with him, he looked me in the eyes and told me " thank you sister Smoot for inviting me. I've seen lots and lots of missionaries go to my granddaughter, but none of them have ever talked to me. Thank you for noticing me, and helping me change my life for Jesus." I just started crying right then. How can life get better than this?

Crisostomo Family. First of all, they are from Manilla and only speak Tagalog. Miraculously, I understand everything they are saying and I love their language. I just like listening to them talk, it's such a beautiful language. But I also love the fact that I understand what they are saying (YAY! SISTER BECKHAM) They are the most miracle of miracles. If you remember sister Jobeta, she is the mom of the family that Jenna helped me find when we were on exchanges. Sister Jobet is friends with Sister Crisostomo, and gave her as a referral. We went to the Crisostomo Family and they welcomed us with opened arms. This is the story that they told us. A few months ago, Sister Vergith (the mom) had a mental breakdown. She turned into a non-responsive state and could not respond to anybody. She said her mind was just blank. Her husband couldn't find work, and their kids were having troubles with some other groups of people.  Needless to say, they were in need of some help. Brother Crisostomo is an Athiest, who did not believe in Jesus Christ, or any form of religion, and used to persecute and reject all religious missionaries no matter the religion. Last month (it must be only a few weeks before I got here), the sister missionaries found them and offered to give a blessing to sister Vergith.  The father was in desperate need, and allowed it. They had the Elders go and visit the family and bless the mother. There was no follow up from the missionaries (probably because of the transfer and I didn't know that they existed, there was no record of them).  When we arrived, we found that since the blessing, the mother was completely healed, brother Crisostomo found work, and the problems from the children and resolved. They told us they will believe anything we tell them. I was a little worried at first because of the principal of faith vs. signs. vs. miracles. But I know that God provides ways to open hearts. And our goal has been to build them a foundation of faith. Brother Crisostomo is still learning to communicate with God, but last week he gave one of the most sincere and beautiful kneeling prayers for his family that I think I have ever heard in a long time. It has been a miracle and a beauty to teach their family. They should be baptized on September 20. I'm praying and have faith that the Elders will take good care of them! 

I love you all so much and am grateful for you letters and support. You are the best family ever! Thanks for teaching me about the gospel my whole life. You are the best!
Love, Sister Smoot

Ashley sent me these pictures this week-

My district  Now he's my district leader. He went to Lone peak... small world. Also, his companion, Elder B (sorry, I forgot) knew Sister Beckham, because he's new in the mission and from Baggio, she was serving in his branch when he left. SMALL WORLD. He said she's the coolest missionary ever and "hard core". :)

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Jenna and I after the best companionship study ever

Our companions in Jenna's apartment

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Letter # 63 (August 10, 2014) What? 24 new investigators? UM Is this real life? Cool story

This week was great ... Isn't that how I start all letters? It was a little surreal to get a missionary from Ally. I can't believe she is now a missionary. Of course I can believe it because she is the most amazing, dedicated, beautiful, spiritual, talented, humble, and sincere woman on the planet (except for you mom), but it's crazy that she gets to experience everything I'm still living.  It really is like a mini life full of ups and downs at a pace of 100 miles per hour.  She will do amazingly. YOU ROCK! KEEP GOING... THE LANGUAGE WILL COME, PROMISE!! 

Last week we found 24 new investigators... so this week was a lot of follow-up as we continue trying to find new investigators. We have a lot of families which is such a blessing and so much more fun to teach. Harder to schedule, but so much more rewarding while teaching.  The family that Sister Jenna Smoot helped us find led us to 2 other families and they all came to church yesterday!!! Last Sunday night we asked a neighboring, active couple to come teach with us and they became friends with all three of the families. So yesterday, they went and picked up all the families and walked to church together. It was cool to see the conversion of the active members increase as their joy from missionary work was visibly planted on their faces! This couple, the Villarez couple is actually an inspiration. Last year, brother was not a member and addicted to several word of wisdom substances. They have 1 boy who was 8 years old but died tragically in march of this year.  He was hit by a truck on the main road while walking home from school.  He was getting ready for his baptism the following week.  This active mother, Sister Villarez, relied fully on the Lord for comfort and this inspired Brother Villarez to fully listen to the missionaries.  As a result, brother turned his life around and is now our most active and powerful recent convert in our area.  The two of them are praying for another child, and in the mean time are serving the Lord and preparing to be sealed in the temple next year!   They have such a powerful testimony of eternal families and living the gospel standards and are a huge help with the three families in their village.  It was so cute to see how happy they were teaching their new friends about the church and sitting with them in Sacrament Meeting. These are emotions that cannot be bought or traded. This is what missionary work is all about!

We also have a good success story this week named Brother Aldin.  He is 19 years old and works at a tire shop on the main road where we pass by multiple times each day.  A couple of weeks ago, he approached us all smiley and bright (not to mention he is super tall, like taller than me, probably over 6 feet).  We were new in the area and thought he was already a member because he has a special countenance, but he invited us to teach him the next day. We showed up and he wasn't home. We tried back multiple times, but he was never there. Finally this week, we saw him again and he said he was out of town, but back for good and asked us to teach him again. Our lessons with brother Aldin are so smooth and purely guided by the spirit to a completely prepared individual. He is so excited about the gospel and completes our sentences before we can even teach him about the restored gospel. I don't know how he knows, it's like he has a connection to his pre-earth-life self. He accepted a baptismal date for Sept. 6, 3014 and came to churchyesterday too. 

I know missions are different all across the world with lots of different measures of success. But no matter where we are, the pure and simple happiness and peace that the spirit brings is the same. Even with the so called "Big Successes" and "High Numbers," my favorite parts of the mission are the small and simple moments during lessons when we as missionaries and the people we are teaching, connect with the spirit through the spirit of conversion. I love this work and my mission and everything I have experienced. I'm so grateful for the hard times, even though I don't want to go through them again. I know they have made me the missionary and the person that I am right now.  I wrote in my journal one night that I don't want to tell anyone how hard missionary work actually is, or maybe no one will go on a mission. Haha. But the good times more than make up for the bad, even though they are more scarce and for shorter periods of time. I am just learning how to appreciate and enjoy those small moments and spending time to be grateful as we work through and learn from the bad. I love this gospel and the simple but deeply meaningful message of repentance. Renewal, refresh, refine, relearn.... improve, polish, grow. I love it. I love our Savior, and I love all of you! I hope we all have such an amazing week this week as we grow closer to our Savior each day! 
Lots of Love,
Sister Smoot 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Letter # 62 (August 3, 2014) Jenna and Ashley do exchanges! Best week EVER!!

This week was the best week of my entire mission!  This is not an exaggeration. I was companions with sister Jenna Smoot from Wednesday - Thursday.  What a tender mercy from the Lord.  I was not the one to assign the exchange, because I knew that I would be biased and, of course, put us together. But since Sister J. Smoot is training a Filipina, Sister Madronio felt it would be better if she was paired with her so that she could help her with the Language.. etc. So Sister Smoot and Sister Smoot invaded our area here in Paglaum (The city of HOPE), and we shared a message about Families. But really.

 Cousins Sister Smoot and Sister Smoot

We took all our pictures on Sister J Smoot's camera, so just steal them from her. 
First of all, Sister J Smoot is one of the best sister missionaries here in the world because she literally has the love of Christ with her at all times.  She is so loving to everyone, and I am so glad I got to work with her. Even though we haven't really seen each other throughout the mission, our Ilonggo is the same. We have the same accent when we talk. It must be a Smoot thing!  I really loved out companionship study and we both joked that we will have to keep having companionship study even when we get home. We really had a day just filled, overflowing with the spirit. 

Sister Jenna Smoot also helped us find a couple of miracles in our area.  The area were we were working was kind of a dead area - progressing. But I really just felt like it might have potential, and had only been there once before. When we walked into the little area, we just started talking to everyone in our path, singing for them, talking about families, praying with them, and setting up return appointments. The first couple were not interested, but enjoyed the singing. As we started going farther into the area, I saw a really really old lady (over 80 years old) sitting on a bench. I just said hi, not thinking we would teach her, because sometimes old people don't understand us. But Sister J Smoot has a lot more faith than me, and started talking to her. This Sister, Sister Primitiva, grabbed Sister Smoot's arm and started pulling her down the trail. I giggled a little and followed them as we walked to the house of Primitiva. She walked REALLY slow, but as they were walking they were talking about life. I trailed behind and saw another lady stare at us strangely than start laughing at us. Sometimes it hurts when other people laugh at us, but instead of getting upset, I just talked to her, and she started following too. so there was this awkward trail of people following this little old lady on this really twisty and muddy trail. But as we were walking, I was able to talk to the second Lady, Sister Celiz, about her family, and she asked if she could sit and listen with us. 

As we entered Sister Primitiva's home, we shared about FAMILIES, but also about the gospel and how it blesses us. I'm not sure Primitiva understood what we were saying, but it didn't matter, because Sister Celiz was listening with her whole soul. She started crying half-way through and couldn't stop. She was literally led by the spirit to follow us down the trail in into the lesson and asked how the gospel could bless her own family. while I was saying the closing prayer, I kept thinking about how we didn't extend baptism to her and it wouldn't leave my mind. But I was thinking, "oh man, it's too late because we are saying the closing prayer." After I closed the prayer, Sister J Smoot just looked up at sister Celiz and extended the baptismal invitation... and she accepted! We bore our testimonies and closed again with a really neat hymn. 

It's really fun to sing with someone who is not tone deaf, let along jenna who is amazing at singing.  It really invited the spirit and it was tangible and sweet.  After the lesson we were talking and laughed about the fact that that was the first time we had both extended baptism after the lesson. Isn't that the coolest thing about the spirit? It will tell us what we need to do in the moment that we need it. I am so grateful for the miracle that Sister Smoot brought to our area. Upon returning to their home last night, we met the whole family and they all committed to baptism too. 

This work is truly amazing and just full of miracles every day. I love you all so much! This letter seems to be more jumpy than others... sorry. Just know that I love being a missionary, and it was even more fun doing it with a good friend, and family member, my cousin Jenna!. 

I think Jenna and I are connected for life and will forever be the crazy cousins in the corner at family parties speaking our weird code language perhaps while playing with rats and lizards in the dirt. Haha. I love you all so much and I can't believe Ally is a missionary now. I love you too Sister! I hope you all see the miracles each day, because there are so many!

Love you lots!
Love, Sister Ashley Smoot

Ashley has 3 1/2 months left and gets home in November. (96 days left)