Friday, December 25, 2015

Recovering from The Storm

Here are some pictures from the Typhoon Melor (local name Nona) that occurred in the Philippines last week. The second red dot from the right is very close to where Makenna is serving in Allen.

Hello all whom I love so dearly!

It's Christmas week! It's finally here! Woohoooooo!!!!!!!!!! Merry Merry Christmas!

So first things first: Don't email or get mad at the mission president for not evacuating us because of the storm. The people here are very accustomed to these kinds of things and no one knew it was going to be as bad as it was. We've been told it's the strongest one to hit our area in over 45 years. Crazy crazy, but I am okay. All is well:) Sing the hymn Mom when you're freaking out:)

 Heavenly Father will protect us. One thing I haven't told any of you is how often I hear about the "sickness" that came before Typhoon Yolanda. Apparently before the storm hit, TONS of missionaries got sick so bad they had to be sent home. It was completely out of the blue. Everyone thinks it was a blessing in disguise because they may have been put in dangerous situations had they been here during the storm. So see?:) All is okay here in the Philippines. 

This week has been very...odd. We were sent back to our areas not really knowing what to do. There's no way we were going to go try to teach lessons while people are trying to spend their time finding food and rebuilding their houses. Not that the gospel isn't extremely important, but there were more pressing survival matters at hand. Everyone was trying to do as much as they could do the couple days after because there were two more typhoons a ways above us we were all aware of that sent us some pretty heavy rainstorms. 

Once we finally got back to our area, we spent the whole first day in our boring apartment because it was raining so hard. We attempted to clean it up, but the humidity was so thick that everything stayed wet for a couple days. Everything. Joy:)

The next day we were able to actually get stuff done. We went out and checked on all the members and those who had received the most damage. In this situation, it's really hard to know what to do. First of all, Filipinos sometimes find it hard to accept help from others. I love them, but they kinda drive me crazy sometimes. Other than doing laundry and cleaning up in and around what's left of their houses, there's not much we can do unless someone teaches us how to help them build their houses, which might be happening this week. 

We finally decided to go check in with the Branch President and see how he thought we could best use our time. He had us go clean the church. The church was a disaster. Every inch of the place was just covered in garbage and sticks. This picture of the tree was in the back. There were 4 other trees just like this. Completely ripped out. And they're huge! They're huge trees! The fence next to the tree is at least 5 feet taller than me if that gives you a good idea. After picking up as much as we could, they had us sweep the grass. Yes, you read that right. Sweep the grass. With a broom. Rakes are nonexistent here.

It took forever!!!!!! We swept the whole yard and got rid of a ton of clutter all over the place. A lot of the members helped. The members are wonderful. They love the church so much. One family practically lives here on a daily basis because they are always cleaning it and taking care of it. 

Another really cool experience we got to participate in was helping package relief goods for families without food and water. A ton of food was sent from one of our church head quarters in Manila, and the US already got relief goods over to us. Blessed America. Oh how I miss you often. It was so fun to see how much food was provided for all these families! Service is the best! 

One thing I did that day was help package these little goodie bags full of candy. I just assumed one was being given to each family receiving relief. Instead, it was for something else. The following event is one of the sweetest things I've ever seen in my entire life!!!!!!! After church yesterday, in the chapel, all of a sudden all the kids came rushing over piling on top of eachother to sit on the front peu (peu? Is that how you spell it? My English is declining rapidly). I asked one of the kids what what going on and with all the energy in his little heart he said, "Santa came!" with this huge grin on his face. Then Brother Mark came in with a big sack and started handing out the goodie bags I helped package just the day before. 

I don't think anyone would quite understand this unless you had been there. Kids in the Philippines believe in Santa, but they don't believe he ever has enough time to come visit them. Presents are not a part of Christmas for the majority of the families. Just receiving the small bags of candy are an unheard of little miracle for the kids. We are so spoiled!!!! Goodness gracious, I am never getting competitive over another gift exchange ever again. 

I hope in some way we'll be able to remind all of our investigators of the true importance of Christmas this week. Our members have amazingly strong testimonies but a ton of people came to church this week mostly so they could get support from the church. That's a widespread ocurrence throughout all of the Philippines following a typhoon. They come for a little while until the church stops giving out relief and then they stop. If anyone in the whole wide world truly understood how much this gospel could help them in their lives no one would every turn it away. The blessings that can come are tremendous!

So here's my challenge: Do something more this Christmas, more than usual, to help you remember Christ and his birth and everything that followed. Read a scripture. Watch a video. Dress up some unfortunate member of the family in a nativity-like costume. You get to use your imagination with this one:)

 Each night, I've been reading a chapter of Jesus the Christ. Boy is it a tough read and it's got over 700 pages, but it's so good! I fully believe one of the ways to come closer to him and have a better understanding of how the atonement works in our lives is by learning more about him.

Today we are in Tacloban. We're spending Pday here and then the Christmas Multi Zone conference is tomorrow. SO EXCITED!!! We will also find out what's going on with our situation - if we're being pulled out of our areas or if we're staying. I'm almost more excited for that because being in limbo the last week has been somewhat annoying to my impatient self. I hope we stay though! We don't have electricity or running water, but the pump downstairs works well and the emergency lights. Plus we don't even need our filter because the small hospital provides clean filtered water. 

Okay here are answers to your questions Mom:) :

1) Did you stay overnight in the chapel in Catarman or did you return to your area?
We stayed in Catarman, but on the extra mattresses at the STLs apartment. 

2) How are the conditions in Allen? Is there flooding now or is it all done?
Conditions are improving. Flooding is almost gone. Water and electricity will probably not be on for another month. Slowly, the cleaning up of the city is taking place. There's lots to do but it already looks much better. This street picture at the bottom is one of the street that first day after the storm. I almost didn't put it on here because you really can hardly tell what damage occurred from looking at it. There's stuff all over down the street and one of the buildings is just blown to bits. 

3) How are you getting from these area's? Car? Who is driving? Who has a car? 
When we drive to Catarman, we drive in a jeepney. When we drive to Tacloban, we drive in a van provided by a van service. The vans are awful. I'm amazed I haven't gotten sick yet in the car. It's been a close one several times. But what can a girl do? I just close my eyes as much as I can, even if I'm not tired - it helps. 

This picture of me is with the P family and two little kids that like to run up when we come walking down the street and shout "Sister Sister!!!!" and then they ask if we're ghosts (every single time - they still can't believe we're white) and then they give us high fives. I promise they're a smiley people. They just dont like to in pictures I guess. (They say I am so white I sparkle)
I can't wait to talk to you all! I'm so excited!!!!!!!!! Love you so much!!!! Just know, I will be there Christmas morning in spirit:) Tell the family, extended and all, that I love them:)

Love you!!!!!

Happy Christmas. Hugs and loves. 

Sister Russon

PICS from Typhoon damage

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Typhoon Nona - I was in it

Hello Family!

Gosh I feel like I haven't talked to you forever! 

I cannot even believe everything that has happened in these last couple of days. I'm not even quite sure how to explain it. 

I guess I'll just throw it all out there! I was in the middle of a Category 3 Typhoon. This has been one of the most insane experience of my whole life. Mind you, Hurricane Katrina was this same category. There weren't nearly as many deaths though because there was no storm surge - when the water rises. That's what killed the majority of the people in Typhoon Yolanda. 

It is absolutely insane how little everyone knows about what's coming here when it comes to the weather. No one has any way of finding out for some reason! 6 in the morning on Monday is when we were told the storm would hit in it's strongest. At this time we were expecting a category 1. There was hard rain throughout the whole night so that it was hard to sleep because it was so loud but nothing too drastic. We got up, got ready for the day, but stayed in because the rain kept getting stronger. Finally the power went out and the water. We then got a text from the mission office that it was now supposed to be a category 2. Our phone died before the Category 3 text. 

We all should've been evacuated. 2 sisters in another area were. They're in Tacloban now and we don't know what they're doing. Thank heavens though because we're told their area got hit the worst. 

Anyways, the weather outside just got absolutely insane. You couldn't even see hardly a single thing outside because it was just gray with the rain. We are on the 3rd floor of a strong cement building right on the ocean. Because we're so high, we didn't think we'd have to worry about flooding. We were mighty wrong haha. Many pieces of glass are missing from our windows so there was a lot of water coming in...everywhere! The room that was the worst we figured out how to cover by cutting off the cover of a plasic binder and belting it to the bars on the window. This covered about a 6 x 6 opening in the wall and you will not believe how much water we stopped from coming in in just that little space. The wind was so intense that I had to throw all my weight against the small binder cover, while Sister Mortensen belted it down. We are such a team. Our roommates left the night before to go home, they finished their missions! - so we were the only ones in the apartment. 

Next, in the same room with the window, water up to my ankles was just coming in everywhere. We couldn't figure out for the life of us where it was coming in and we needed to figure it out because it kept rising. We'd stop for a minute and test some different stuff, and then use the two dust pans we had to scoop up the water, put it in a bucket, and scoot it to the bathroom where there's a drain. Everything was soaked. We were soaked. Somehow there was just water flying around the air all around us and everything was just wet. Plus it was super loud. We were screaming at each other above the noise of the rain so we could hear. Finally, we both paused and said a prayer that we could figure out where the water was coming from and that everyone would be okay. 

While my companion was fixing something in another room, I realized that the water was coming up through the door - the balcony door - which balcony was on the same side of the apartment as the ocean and the direction the storm was coming from. With all of our strength we pushed the door open against the wind and saw that the balcony drain had be covered by something and the balcony was full of several feet of water and coming in through the door. Sister Mortensen bravely went out and tried to undo the drain while I held the door open. This was not an easy task at all. I have never been in this strong of a storm in all my life. I'm honestly no doubt completely amazed one of us didn't fly off the balcony. The rain felt like it was cutting into your skin it hurt so bad.

For the next couple hours we scooped water and went back out a couple of times to move leaves off of the drain. Once we got that situation figured out, we were able to relax a little bit. The apartment was a complete muddy wet mess. People came in earlier from outside to stay in the attic room above us so we checked on them and the people below us to see if they were okay. They were in and out of our apartment all night for food and the bathroom. It was nice to have someone specific to focus on helping because there was only so much we could do with the water situation. 

We finally ate dinner and tried to get some sleep. Our beds were wet. My clothes were all soaked because I had done laundry the night before and the humidity from the storm was just not getting them anywhere near dry. So that was a super fun night:) 

The next morning, Tuesday we wake up, decide to throw on a t shirt and shorts and go check on all the members. Oh my gosh, everything was just a complete disaster. It doesn't  even feel real still. It felt like a movie. We walked around to check on everyone and most peoples houses are destroyed, if not completely gone. Trees were broken everywhere and ripped out. Broken glass and garbage and tree trunks and pieces of houses and clothes were all over the streets. We found out all the members were okay. No one we know was injured at all and we only know of a few deaths out of everywhere the storm hit. Helecopters were in the air flying to Catarman where they were going to deliver out the relief, and soldiers were all over  the place helping clear the roads. It was absolutely insane! 

Everyone immediately got back to work starting to fix their houses. These Filipinos can really get stuff done when they need to. We went to the church where we found out over 100 people took refuge and we brought them a lot of food. Then we just walked around and talked to people and tried to help in anyway we could. Technically we were breaking rules by doing that because after a typhoon, you're supposed to stay in your apartment until your leaders come. Around 3 we tried to buy food because we didn't know how long we were going to be here and then decided to return home to see if the District Leader would come. Let me just tell you, it's a very eery thing realizing how little your money is worth in situations like that because the only thing that's valuable is food and shelter. Most every food place closed down, probably saving the food for their families. Some places were open so we were okay, just hoping those places don't get robbed. 

We were in the apartment the rest of the day trying to clean up. The District leader didn't get to our house until 9 that night, in which he told us to pack a bag because we were going to Catarman straight in the morning. 

Catarman was supposed to be where the eye of the storm was, but it's also the emergency evacuation spot for our zone. Yesterday, we got there and saw all the other missionaries in the zone had gotten there too. The damage was pretty bad. Overall, I'd say our area was somewhat worse because we have a lot more poor people in our area. Less houses made of cement and more made of bamboo and garbage bags and wood and cardboard.  

We didn't have electricity or a phone signal, so we were hoping someone would come. The stake president in the area left to Calbayog to call the mission president and told us he would be back by 12. We just hung out in the church building all day with the rest of the zone but he never came back. Finally around 4, the zone leaders decided to go to Calbayog and call the president themselves. They went and found out the stake president had some sort of emergency come up. So they called president and got back to the church around 9:30 at night with news for us. 

We don't really know what's going on. We're all going back to our areas tonight and staying there until we drive to Tacloban on Monday for the Multi zone Christmas Devoltional we were already going to go to. We're just supposed to help the members as much as we can until then. I don't think we're going to be teaching the gospel much, there's too much else to do. 

At first it wasn't really a question if we were staying in our areas. Most every telephone line has been ripped right out of the ground, so no electricity for probably a month, no running water - though we do have a filter and access to a well. We thought for sure we were going to be transferred out to other areas. But today we found out we might stay because the last time they moved all the misisonaries out of an area because of a storm, the members felt like they were being abandoned and it caused some problems. The president will have to decide what to do these next couple of days and let us know when we get to Tacloban. 

Until then, we're okay! We have enough food, and emergency lights, and supplies we need. 

This whole thing is just a mess. Completely crazy. My companion keeps telling me how amazed she was with my behavior during the whole thing because a lot of the new missionaries were freaking out. I just cant believe something this crazy has happened so soon on my mission. I will keep you updated as soon as I can!

Parentals - please get a world wide calling card. If I'm in Allen over Christmas, the chances of skyping are slim. So I can just email you my phone number and you can call me. In case skype does work however, you might want to set  up an account so we can try that:)

I miss you all tons! Love hearing from you! Don't worry about a thing. These last few days have been crazy but all is well in the world and I'm totally safe and sound. 

Also, please don't worry about sending packages. They're way too expensive and I can do without. Also, the whole pumpkin bread thing was a joke. Don't send that because ovens are nonexistent here:)\

Love you all to pieces!

Talk to you soon!

Sister Russon

P.S. I'm in Calbayog right now, that's how I'm emailing, so I don't have my camera with me. I promise I'll send pics when I can!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Woohooo! I'm still in the Philippines

Hello you blessed people of my life!

I love you all! It's so so fun to hear about everything that's going on at home. It helps a lot, I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything and I still get to participate in your lives!

I cannot believe how long I've been here. My 3 month mark is coming up. I will be 1/6 done with my mission! That's crazy! It's going so fast!

I'm slowly getting closer to the ward members here and it is great! They are wonderful! All the nanays (what they call the elderly ladies here) are like grandmothers to me for the time being. They're not the same, but they try to show their love so it is much appreciated:) Yesterday at church during testimony meeting, Sister Edtra - a recent convert who has been working with us a lot recently - got super emotional sharing her testimony because her testimonys been so strengthened by the sacrifices she sees us make and the time that we spend and the changes in the peoples lives who accept the gospel. I didn't understand a lick of what she said but Sister Mortensen told me later and it was a heart warming moment:) 

I want to start telling you about the people I'm teaching! I'll try to write about one in each email!

First is Tatay Dineros (Tatay is what they call the elderly men:)). He's a less active that leaves his wife each week, only returning on saturday, because he goes and works in the mountain, chopping up big rocks into small pieces that they use for construction. They pay him 500 pesos a week for his work - the equivalent of that is $10!!!!! That's it! He works so hard and he is the sweetest man. Each time we've been able to teach him, he's just wonderful. He's been doing so much better with not smoking because he's beginning to see the toll it's taking on his body. He and his wife are wanting so bad to be a part of the next group that makes the trip to the Cebu temple so that they can get married in the temple and sealed to eachother. He hasn't been coming to church a lot, especially when he smokes because he feels bad about it but we've tried to explain the purpose of it. I told him, in broken waray waray, that church is like a hospital - everyone is sick in their own way and we all need it to get better! Just because other members aren't smoking, it doesn't mean they don't have their own personal struggles. One thing I love about him is his love of music. He can't read or write, but music is his passion and he just blasts rock and roll throughout his small home. Haha that's how we know when he's home from work:)

This next week is going to be a blast! We have the zone tour that we have to travel the 8 hours to Tacloban for. We're traveling tomorrow and then the tour is wednesday. I'm not really sure what it is. I think a member of the seventy who is over our area is making a trip to a lot of the missionaries throughout the mission and visiting them, and then we're having one big meeting with half the mission in Tacloban on Wednesday. Apparently there's a grocery store there that might actually have yogurt, so I'm pumped! They don't have milk or cheese or yogurt here! Ahhh! Or salad:( Enjoy you Americans. AND! Theres this American from Texas who lives in Tacloban and runs a Mexican restaurant. Hallelujah! So pumped! 

There's so many things going on in December. It's so fun. We're having Christmas parties for the ward coming up and a going away party for my roommates - Sister Salamanca and Sister Lucero. This week is their last week in the mission. I cannot believe they've been here this long!!! It's insane. March 2017 feels so far away sometimes but then I think about how fast everything else is going and then it's just right around the corner. 

Being here is quite the adventure. There's always like some crazy new story or cool thing. There's this house in our area that I'm obsessed with. This house can barely be seen behind the giant wall in front of it and all the trees around it. It's huge!!!! Which is absolutely amazing considering most houses here are half the size of Kacie's room and made of bamboo and cardboard. Even for American this house is huge. And it's surrounded by this giant wall. And no one lives there. No one knows why it's there or who takes care of it, because someone does the gardening. Hehe there's all these ghost stories about it it's quite exciting:) I'm making up for my lack of a Halloween. 

Everyone still stares at us and points and it's still weird but I'm almost getting used to it. Frozen is huge here and all the kids think Sister Mortensen is Elsa and I am Ana. Hahahaha they're so cute. 

My emotional state and physical state I think have finally come to terms with it being here in the Philippines. I'm amazed that so many people finish their missions because this last month was one of the hardest of my life. But now that I've made that hurtle, it's easy to see how much I have to learn and grow and how many people that can be blessed with the gospel in their lives if they open their hearts to it!

I miss you guys so much!!!! I'm so so grateful for the gospel and a loving Heavenly Father who has such a wonderful plan for us. I cannot imagine going through life not knowing if our families will be together forever. That would be so hard. It's wonderful to be able to know where we came from, why we're even here, and where we're going! And the great thing about all of it is that the people we teach shouldn't take our word for it. We're 20 year old girls. We don't know everything. But Heavenly Father does and he loves us and I know that we can know these things for ourselves if we have a true desire to and we pray with real intent. 

Can't wait to skype you all for Christmas!!!!!!! So excited!!!!!!!

I love you all!! Be happy! Say your prayers. Try to grow in the gospel. 

Say hi to the extended family for me I miss them!

I'll email you all next week. Love you:)

Sister Russon


Also, the computers aren't working with pictures today. I'm sorry! I'll try again next week!

Sending love ...

This week has been great with health! I'm very appreciative! Super hard with homesickness though. Christmas isn't as huge here as it is in America. And without snow or family, it just doesn't feel the same. I miss you guys like crazy! I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family!!!!!!!!!!!

This week on thursday, we went to an island! It was really fun! We went with our roommates and 3 rm sisters in the ward. It was like a big girls day! We only get to go to the island once a month because it's so far and takes so long to get there. We rode a boat. It had a motor on it but went really slow, so it took about a half hour to get there. It was sooooooo nice to be out on the water. I loved it. Very therapeutic for me. When we got back I made mashed potatoes and like a lemon chicken and green beans and this apple crisp thing for thanksgiving. Our Philippino roommates freaked out because there was no rice, but they loved the apple thing. Making American food is too hard. I probably wont do it anymore. Most of that stuff was relly hard to find, and other than cinamon and pepper, they have NO spices here. Plus we don't have an oven. The struggle is real, let me tell ya. 

Tuesday we had our specialized zone meeting. It was so fun to see everyone! I love seeing other people who speak English! It gets pretty lonely sometimes with everyone speaking Waray and I don't understand. They don't really like to try and talk to me. Ugh, missions are hard. Anyways zone meeting, awesome! I wish we had one every week! I saw Elder Camings too! I think that's his name? Jimmys cousin. So that was cool! And! I got my Christmas package!!! Oh my gosh, you guys are the best people ever! I love getting to open a letter every day and you sent more sea salt caramels! And a huge thing of nutella! Aw I honestly really did cry. I can't believe you guys! Best Christmas present ever. 

On Friday we had exhanges. Sister Mortensen and I went on exchanges with the STLs. So I drove and hour and a half to Catarman  - where we also had the zone meeting - with one of the StLs and the other stayed with Sister Mortensen in our area in Allen. It was fun to see her different ways of teaching. Plus she rooms with Sister Prudencio who I knew from the MTC so at night it was really nice to just have her to talk to about everything. We understand. Sometimes it gets really hard because everyone else around us is going home so soon. I just home the following months go as fast as November did. Can you believe I've already been in the field a whole month!!!! Crazy. 

Love you all! Be happy! Be thankful! We have so much we've been blessed with!

Can't say enough how much I love you all. 

Love Sister Me

Sunday, November 29, 2015

This Week....

Well hello my marvelous parents and my little kiwis!

Just another week here in the Philippines and boy have I learned a lot!

To start off, this week has been extremely hard at some points, and
really easy at others. First of all, just about every single possible
thing that can happen to a person's body has happened to me. Monday, I
started to feel my throat swell up, which wasn't a big deal except
each day it got worse until finally I spiked a huge fever on friday
and we had to stay home the whole day. My companion had to convince me
at first because I really didn't want to, but it was
for the best. I could hardly function. So I slept all the day long.
Tuesday, I stepped on this bridge wrong and broke through it and
almost fell all the way through, scraping up my whole leg in the
process. Most American missionaries supposedly break the bridge
hahaha. Tiny Filipino people. Luckily though, I'm the first one who
didn't fall in the water. Today my awful cough and sore throat are
finally seeming like they're going away. Since I haven't felt very good 
I'm hardly eating anything each day because I'm just not hungry. 
Oh and also, my entire body is covered in one of the worst rashes 
I've ever had. But that's not something I'm too worried about. I'm the
rash queen.

So those are all of the things that are wrong with my body:) It's
slowly getting better though. At the beginning of this week, we were
also struggling with the work. Sister Mortensen said other than the
language, this is one of her hardest areas as far as people being
receptive to the message. Part of it's probably because there are a
lot of smoking and drug problems here among the youth, and we're both
American, so a lot of people are too shy to talk to us.

These past couple weeks, I've been constantly thinking about what a
mental struggle a mission is. Constantly thinking about missing family
and America in general and then trying to remind myself of why I'm
here and what my purpose is. It's exhausting. Well, I had a spiritual
insight these last couple of days when I read the Fourth Missionary.
It's a talk that one of the Elders in the MTC gave me. Haha, I'm not
entirely sure how, but I have felt a lot happier since reading it. It
talks about the difference between the third and fourth missionaries.
The Third missionary is obedient and does what he/she is supposed to,
but doesn't want to. The life of the Third missionary is still based
on the will of the missionary instead of the will of the Lord like the
Fourth missionary. Basically, it says the way of the Fourth missionary
is actually easier, because the mission isn't such a mental and
emotional struggle. Sure, each missionary will have struggles, but
choosing the way of the Fourth missionary is what he calls the
"Intelligent" choice, because with that way, you personally benefit
from you mission more because you allow the Lord to mold you and make
you the person he wants you to become.

Heavenly Father can make a lot more out of you than you can make of yourself.

So reading that, somehow, struck me a little and helped a lot!

Other than that, the week hasn't been super eventful! The language is
coming a little better. Comparing myself to my Spanish from 5 years,
it's amazing what I've learned in a couple weeks, but comparing myself
to the natives here, I've got a long way to go:)

Happy Thanksgiving this week! I'm thankful for all of you!!!!

There isn't very many food options here so today we're going exploring
because I will make as close to a Thanksgiving dinner as I can...even
if we don't have an oven...and even if our Philippino roommates are
going to absolutely freak out because there's no rice involved. Hehehe

Tomorrow we have another zone meeting so that's something exciting to
look forward to! Darn, I was hoping I'd get the package tommorrow but
it'll probably be at our next zone meeting then which I think is
December 16th? I don't know, we'll see. It's okay:)

If you ever think of a good quote to send me, especially movie quotes,
send em! I love them! Dad sent me that one from the Hobbit and I loved
it and put it in my quote book. Yes I brought that with me.

Say hi to all the family for me and tell them I love them and miss
them and am thankful for all of them!

Thanks for keeping me updated on everything that's going on! Don't
forget to keep doing that:)

Also, tell Kacie to send me dance pictures and boy stories:) Lexie too:)

Love you all! Miss you! See you soon,

Love Sister Russon

UPDATE from Shelly: I emailed Makenna's Mission President to check on her for me to make sure she is healthy. Their home is 8 hours away from where she is serving. I found out that he and his wife were going to her area the very next day. He sent me an email back saying "I am sitting 3 people from your daughter right now, She is happy, glowing and confident". After their meeting they talked to her and she said she is doing much better and everything is fine... and they sent me this picture... So thankful for them and knowing they are taking care of these missionaries :)

I am never eating rice again so long as I live

Hello my blessed family!

Can I just say how much I love you all? Like a lot! 

This week has been more of a roller coaster of emotions then I've ever had in my whole life. Honestly it's been a bit ridiculous. Thank heavens I've been able to pull myself together. Since Saturday, it's like I've finally gotten over that first wall and been able to get set in the mission mindset. Thank Heavens!!!!!! 

So here's what I found out this week. There are 21 missions in the Philippines. Tacloban is the hardest one of them all because there is a different language or different use of the languages in every zone. I also found out that Allen, the area in the Catarman zone is the hardest area in the whole mission because everyone speaks their own combination of 4 different languages - Tagalog, Cebuano, Waray S, and Waray H (For your information Waray S and Waray H are about as far apart as America is from the Philippines). Guess where your lovely daughter is serving?

Thats right!!!! Heavenly Father or the mission president or someone has an insane INSANE amount of faith in me because I am currently in the hardest area in the hardest mission in the entire PHILIPPINES!  Ha, I'm still in shock. 

One thing I've thought a lot about though is what our teacher Brother Pasikala said to us in the MTC. He drew a circle on the board and inside it wrote "comfort". Then he drew a larger circle around that and inside it wrote "growth". There is no growth in the comfort zone. It's so true. I am mostly out of my comfort zone I'd say about 98% of the time I'm awake. Even when I'm asleep, I'm sweaty and dirty and think a bug is landing on me everytime the fan blows a hair on my arm. Let me tell ya, the struggle is real. What's helped a lot is just knowing how much farther I'm going to be in the language when I get out of this area. Hopefully I"ll know a good chunk of all 3!

Out of everything, being here has made me realize really how much I have to learn. About everything! About the world, about myself, about Heavenly Father and the gospel, about other people and what they're going through. 

Our daily schedule pretty much consists of waking up, showering with a bucket - hoorah, eating rice and bananas - yum, getting ready, one hour of personal study, 2 hours of companionship study, 1 hour of language study, lunch, and then proselyting - walking all over the place, talking to as many people as we can, and teaching lessons. Most people are home during the day, and though most people have phones (which is another weird thing because they probably have hardly enough money to pay for food since most of them live in houses with dirt floors), we don't set up appointments ever. Just show up and hope they're not sleeping. I still haven't figured out how most of them get their money cause they're always home. 

This week, my favorite experience happened on Wednesday. For the most part, I speak hardly at all. Sister Mortenson does most of the talking because I have absolutely no idea what anyones saying 93% of the time. On Wednesday though, we started talking to this family on the side of the street and they had a ton of little girls over playing in front of their little house. While Sister Mortenson was saying who knows what to the Nanay - mom, I knelt down and was trying to talk to the little girls. Then it started to rain, so we stayed under their little covering for about 15 minutes just talking. Hahaha I taught the little girls how to play patticake and they loved it! It was so cute, they were trying to say "patticake" with their thick Philippino accents. It was adorable. They were probably like 3-5 years old. When we got up to leave they all grabbed my hands and were tugging on me and saying "upod upod upod", which means "again". Adorable. 2 of them we've seen a couple times since and they just love us. Their names are Princess and Precious. They have really different names here haha

Tomorrow is going to be super fun because we have zone conference, so I'll get to see the people I know from the MTC that are in my current zone and one of them is Sister Rex! Yay! Tomorrow, hopefully I'll get the package too. The zone leaders pick up the packages from the Mission office, so if they don't have it, then I'll have to wait for the next zone meeting which could be for a couple more weeks. :(

1) How are you feeling? Are you healthy? Has the food been bugging you at all as in making you sick?? 

-I got a random cold this week and my throat swelled up. So that was weird but it's pretty much gone now. I wouldn't say I'm healthy though and may never be. All we is is rice and meat with the rice and bread- they have a lot of bakeries here. Usually I have a banana at least once a day so that's good. Sometimes mangoes. Veggies only a couple times a week:/ But I'm taking the right vitamins so that'll help a little at least. 

2) Are you using the oils for anything? I love the oils!!!!! Could you email me though about ones that would help my back? 

3) Will your companion leave before Christmas?
-My 2 Philippino roommates will leave before Chrstmas, but my companion doesn't leave until after our 12 weeks together, so late January. Each new missionary has a 12 week program for the first 12 weeks and then could possibly get put as a trainer for a new missionary after that, but usually gets a new companion who does another training program with them for the next 6 weeks.

4) Do you have access to a CD player? Do they give them to everyone? 
Yes we have a CD player for each missionary in our apartment. The only thing we really use it for is Sister Salamancas music which is a BLESSING! I MISS MUSIC! The music rules for our mission are really slack so it's nice cause she has a bunch of fun Christmas music and EFY music we listen to during meals and while getting ready. She's gonna give it to me to put on my Flash Drive because you can just plug it right into the CD player, so that's cool. 

5) What are you eating? Do you cook everything yourself or do you go to members houses for dinner?
Most of the meat includes pork or chicken, sometimes fish. Mostly just a lot of meat and carbs. Great. We cook everything ourselves, well, specifically Sister Lucero. We all pitch in for the food and she loves to make it for us. There aren't many meal options because all the grocery stores have really is bread and pastries, rice, meat, and then fruits and veggies. Today is p-day, so I'm gonna make sure I buy a ton of fruit and vegetables. We have plenty of money. Everything is so cheap here. 

Side note: When I get home, I'm literally going to run for the hills if you ever try to feed me rice again. Also, you know how in the movie Signs, Boe says the water tastes old? Yeah, I know what that means now. Haha, nothing anyone said about the food tasting good is even a smiggen true. It's motivating me though to get really good at cooking when I come home! And, I'm also probably going to be sleeping on the carpet for a week because it is a luxury I never knew I had before. 

Love you all to pieces! Can't believe Kacie won 21 pilot tickets, hurrah!!! 

Love you all, think about you every day!



 The stairs to Makenna's apt she has to climb everyday. She said it is worse than it looks :)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

First Area - Catarman

Hi Family!!!
I have never missed anyone so much in my whole life! I miss you all with every fiber of my being!

Honestly, the first few days here were some of the hardest of my life. I wasn't really in culture shock, it just hit me that I was stuck here for the next 16 months and without anything American. I almost cried when I heard there was a KFC in Tacloban. 

The day after I last wrote, we went to McCarther park - look it up, lot of history there - and were assigned companions. My new companion is Sister Mortenson, haha one of the only Americans. I lucked out with that one but I can hardly understand her English because her accent is so thick. She's going home soon - I'm her last companion. 

After that we ate lunch at the mission home, said another horrid goodbye to everyone in our zone - most were with me in the MTC, and drove to our area. Sister Garcia got to come with me because we were going to drop her off at her area, so that was a blessing. Sister Rex, Sister Prudencio, and Elder Fisher, all from my zone in the MTC drove in the van behind us, because they are in the Catarman zone with me! So I'll probably see them 2 or 3 times a month!\

Catarman is the farthest north zone in the mission. Here, they speak a mix of waray S and tagolog. So I pretty much have absolutely no idea what's going on. At all. However, most speak some English, they just don't like using it. Here is what I've learned about the language here: NO ONE speaks with the same language. Everyone uses a mix of Waray S, waray h, tagalog, cebuano, english. So it's pretty much a do-what-you-want-whenever-you-want-and-hope-those-around-you-can-figure-it-out kind of thing. Haha, makes it easier for me though because I can just use english with a mix of whatever else I can use and for the most part, they'll understand. 

Driving up here, I LITERALLY thought I was going to die. Not even kidding. We drove a van up - which is a surprise because I haven't seen one yet. The driver was a flippin maniac. MANIAC. AND, our area is the farthest away from Tacloban, an 8 hour drive. This guy no joke, was going over 100 mph in some areas that I guess could be considered Philippino-versions of residential areas. On top of that, every street is a winding mess, so I sat in the front. I'm absolutely amazed I didn't get sick. God is definitely with me. 

The first day, all the Philippinos gathered around me to watch me eat who knows what, and as I choked it down, I nodded my head and said, "Mmm, good", which was a total lie, but they all cheered. So far my favorite thing has been the ice cream made of leaves. I am not kidding. Made. Of. Leaves.  After that, we said a prayer and I screamed in the middle of it because a moth the size of my fist (not an exageration) slapped me in the face!

Haha, somehow laughing about everything has gotten me through the last couple days. There's a lot to get used to. I don't like how everyone stares at me all the time. I'm more popular than a Ferrari in Willard Utah. Cars of men will go by and they'll cheer, and then there's all the women who just want to stare at me. They put bleaching agents in their soap here to make them whiter. Haha, it's actually funny how I probably look like a disgusting sweaty hobo, and they think I'm absolutely gorgeous. Don't know if I'm gonna get used to that. It's not exactly a good feeling to be examined all the time. 

I also miss carpet. There is not carpet here. None. Ever. Just tile all the time. 

And I really miss Mom's cooking and knowing what I'm putting into my mouth. 

After multiple times of wanting to cry, I finally had an ah-hah moment of remembering why I'm even here and keeping myself motivated. I'm been happy and positive ever since:) I feel like I have this huge mountain ahead of me, probably because everyone around me is going home soon, even my Philippino roommates - they leave in 6 weeks. But I've kept myself from thinking that way by writing letters to myself to read at different points in the mission. Self progression was always really motivating for me. 

My companion and I are getting closer little by little. She's from Lehi and is the nicest thing ever, but we're very different in personality so that'll take some work. But it'll come!

The ward members are absolutely wonderful! They all love me to pieces, and laugh when they know I have no idea what's going on - which I just pretend to think is funny too. On Saturday, we were asked by Mark, one of the Bishopric members to come to his wedding reception. 

Haha it was so fun! American music is everywhere here, which is a true blessing! The other day I heard some Pearl Jam and Ed Sheeran. The first day I'm pretty sure I teared up when Shake it off came on downstairs. T Swift! I won't forget you!

Talking to investigators is starting to become something I'm looking forward to. The first time I beared my testimony I almost lost it with emotion. I love the gospel so much! 

It gets completely dark at about 5:30 here and we have to proselyte til 9. So yesterday, we were walking around in the dark and it was just beautiful! The Philippines is so beautiful. The trees are huge and tall and lush and don't look anything like America. There was every sound imaginable - Dad would've loved it. And then I looked up to the sky in between the trees and the stars were so bright and gorgeous. I wanted nothing more than to lay in a hammock right then and there and stare at the sky. 

When we came back home, someone across the street turned on Beyond the Sea by my one and only love Frank Sinatra. Someone's looking out for me in heaven. 

I like this area much better than Tacloban. Our house is right on the water. 

We live in an apartment complex on the 3rd floor and to my surprise it's not too dirty and there aren't too many bugs (The moth was an exception). Just a lot of lizards.

Tacloban was down. Here it is too, it just doesn't look as dreary and eveythings very colorful. The trees are super small in Tacloban too. I don't know why this bothered me so. I think it's because I already felt so out of place. Everythings bigger in Texas but everythings mini in the Philippines. The first time I saw a tree bigger than me, I almost cried. Haha, there have  been a lot of almost-crying moments.  

Please send me in an email what the equivalency is for kilograms to pounds and kilometers to miles - it will help in the confusion:)

Love you all more than I can explain. It's finally becoming an adventure being here. I'm trying to focus like I should and not think about the end. Especially because EVERYONE says it just absolutely flies by! 

I miss you all and think about you every day! Don't forget it! Love always and always and always. 

See you soon

Love Sister Kenna Russon 

Hello from Tacloban!

Hello Family!!!

I don't have much time to write but today was our first day in Tacloban, my mission. This is by far the hardest thing I've ever done with my life. The MTC in Manila wasn't bad at all, it was so much fun because I was with my district the whole time, who've become family to me, and it was like school. Here, we got about 10 minutes of sleep last night and they already had us out proselyting today. The heat and the humidity are unbearable, I'm about ready to shave my whole head off. I can't speak the language, everyone here either treats me like a celebrity or they are scared of me because I'm white, and I can't imagine walking around in the heat and the humidity everyday like we did today.  Plus, we had to leave more than half our district at 12 this morning because they went to other missions, so I've been missing them and I keep feeling like I'm seeing them everywhere. Last night, we all gathered in one last district prayer in a circle. Elder O'Rullian said it, our district leader, and I completely sobbed! Sobbed like I've never sobbed before. I love them all so much.  And while this is going on, you literally have no time to think about how youre feeling (which is probably a good thing) because you're so busy. 

It's been an emotional day. And it's been really hard. But, about a half hour ago, I went outside and was playing with a bunch of Philippino kids. They are so cute! The cutest things you've ever seen! They can speak a little english and they're tiny! Just tiny! And they were running around singing Christmas songs in waray waray. Haha it hit me that the harder this is, the more I'm going to learn from it. So I've just gotta not think too much about it and lose myself in the work. 

Don't worry about anything! The Philippines is gonna become home soon. 

Love you all. I'll email more when I get the chance!

Love Kenna

I'm in the PHILIPPINES!!!

Can't talk long but I'm here at the MTC in the Philippines!!!!!!!!!!! Ahhhhh!!!

So sorry I couldn't call from LA. I really wanted to call Dad and then see if I'd have time to talk to Mom and Tess but we had to book it to our next flight. We had no time at all to do anything because everything was delayed since we had to return back to Salt Lake. I was gonna call from Hong Kong but same story as LA. 

Don't fret though! Glad I got to hear all of your voices!!!

We got to the Philippines yesterday at about 1 in the morning here - we were exhausted!!!! We got off the plane and it was like, well a group of white missionaries surrounded by small Philippino people. We stuck out like a sore thumb. But everyone here is so nice! I LOVE THE PHILIPPINO 

PEOPLE!! They're so cute and they all want to wave and talk to us! 

We got on a bus after landing and drove about 45 minutes to the MTC. It was 1 in the morning and traffic was still crazy. I can't imagine what it'll be like later today. There's lines on the road but no one look at them at all. I'm so glad I'm serving in Tacloban and not Manila. It's super exciting here but really ghetto. There's graffiti and garbage everywhere, and as we were driving here there's random huts on the side of the rode that I'm pretty sure people live in!...and a few small fires here and there. I'm like, hello! That's illegal! Just kidding, we're not in Kansas anymore. 

The humidity was like a wall when we got off the plane. I'm having to get used to breathing. I haven't been outside yet, but at 1 in the morning it was pretty gonna have to get used to that too:) Overall it's not too bad! I'm not even really nervous about anything! I'm SO STOKED! It's so fun being in another country!!!!! There's so much that's gonna happen between now and the next time I email, which won't be until I get to Tacloban, so I'll write everything down and try to tell you as much as I can. 

We fly out of here on Wednesday, couldn't be more excited!!! 

It's beautiful here too! There are tons of shades of green everywhere. It's gorgeous!

Today, our first day, we're going on splits with missionaries in the area and going proselyting!!!! Good heavens our first day! They're like, "The missionaries and most people you meet will speak Tagolog. So just say what you can in Cebuano and have them translate". I'm like, "Uh, I'm gonna need a translator even if I was speaking Cebuano!" Good heavens their faith in the gift of tongues...

I'll probably be writing a jeepney today, or a put put, no big deal. Just on a little car racing through the streets of Manila. 

Hahahaha, I've been here a day and it's already been an adventure! What is happening right now! I can't even believe I'm in another country!!!! 

Love you all! Tell the family I love them! Happy birthday soon Tess! 

Be strong. Be happy. Say your prayers. 

You're my favorite family:)

Love Kenna

P.S. hopefully I'll be able to call from Tacloban, but nothing too promising! I'll talk to you as soon as I can. Love always!!!!!!

Oh, and, I don't even have any jet lag! Woohoo! We are blessed:)