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