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

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