Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March 22 - 1 Year Left

Tomorrow is my 1 year left mark in the mission! March 22! Wow, these last 6 months honestly feel like 1. Mission time is so weird!!!!!

Another great/strange/spiritually building week in the Philippines!

One of the biggest things I have grown from this week is my new calling - choir director. Elder Camiling was the choir director, and he personally volunteered my to replace him before he transferred. At first I was like, "Oh this will be a breeze". And yet, after the first practice I was ready to punch him for what he had done to me.

This choir is hard chore haha. And, we have our performance next week at the Branch Conference. I am the person who always would lead the music by signing my name in cursive in the air, and now I've had to learn to lead with both of my hands and all of the many tiny little symbols I need to do with my hands that mean different things to the choir. It's been good for me because it's helped me to grow a lot closer with the members. A lot of them don't realize that I am a 20 year old girl so completely out of her comfort zone in this other country of theirs. They see me as this American who they're very intimidated by. Hahaha, I'm sure the look on my face often through this choir experience has shown them how much I really have no idea what I am doing. The relief society has helped me a lot and we've been growing through this experience together.

The work continues on. We're finding people. Losing people. Trying to help people progress. It's hard. The mission had what everyones been calling the March Miracle to reach our baptisms that we goaled for, and we're not going to get even one. Our investigators are just not ready. And, 3 of them just disappeared and went who knows where. We're working hard, but all of the progression of course is in their hands and the Lords. 

Wow, I loved that article mom, about the missionaries being protected and watched over! That is so good!!! It's so true too. At least for me. I feel like this last month and a half or so has just been full of many trials for the missionaries around me and for me too. And yet, the work progresses on and somehow we all make it out okay haha. I'm doing better this week than I have the whole mission.

Part of it is because of my current district - Elder Batikare & Elder Thompson (zone leaders), Elder Gunn & Elder Fijardo, Sister Folau & Sister Estrera - you probably remember how close I was to my district in the MTC. This district isn't quite as close because we don't spend every hour together, but it's pretty close. They're all like my best friends and they crack me up. Friends and family are just so important. I'm so grateful I made it through those first 12 weeks because with my inability to speak the language it was the loneliest thing in the world. There's nothing like it I've ever experienced before. Thank heavens I'm over it!!!!!!

The mission is just amazing in how much it builds you. I'm gonna use all these experiences for the rest of my life.
Keep growing in the gospel everyone! And enjoying life. It is meant to be enjoyed. Appreciate the little things and you will realize how blessed you truly are.

Love you all. Thank you a thousand times over for all of the support you give me!

Love Sister Russon

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hike to A Waterfall - Just pics

First Week of Training

Hello Family!!!!

This week has flown. Just flown by. Tuesday, Sister Erandio and I drove to Tacloban, had a trainers meeting Wednesday with all of the trainers and President and Sister Maurer. There are 9 sister trainers and 6 of them are from my batch alone! Including Sister Garcia, my MTC companion. It was fun to all be together.

On Thursday, we met the trainees and got assigned to them. There was one American trainee and all of us foreigners were praying we wouldn't get her. She's very sweet, but we all know how long it's taken us to learn the languages and training someone in a language we hardly know ourselves sounds like...just thinking about it makes me want to go lay in a hole.

We did the same thing that I did for my training with my trainer - we went to this park where Sister Maurer gave the history of what occurred there in WWII and then the APs read off each new missionary and who their trainer was.

My new companion is.... Sister Angeles! She walked right up to me before we were appointed companions and told me she wanted me to be her companion. Haha she got what she asked for. She really reallly wanted an American.

She and I are very very different. Sister Erandio, my last companion, was like an Americanized Philippino, bless her heart. Sister Angeles grew up Philippina to the core. She and I struggled the first couple of days, because her English is hardly English. She knows a couple of words, that's it. Out of all the trainees, I got assigned to the one who doesn't speak English.

However, I also got assigned to the only one who knows waray waray. Our mission is the only mission in the Philippines that speaks waray waray and she grew up here. She moved out to Legaspi a couple years ago and thats where she was when she put her papers in for the mission and that's why she was able to be called back here.

Before I became a trainer, I asked Sister Folau how she did it when she trained Sister Garcia. Her words were, "You fake it. You fake it til you make it because eventually, you will start to make it".
Yep, that is exactly what I have been doing and over the last couple of days, my testimony that "God qualifies the called" has grown very strong. My waray waray ability to teach and understand is just increasing tremendously every day. And my emotional stability has been fine surprisingly. Heavenly Father is giving me strength and I can assure you it's coming from him and not me.

We've been working really hard. Trying to find people. Trying to talk to everyone. I'm doing my best to teach my trainee to be very obedient. We'll see what happens these next couple of weeks! Hopefully we can find people who are really interested in the gospel! Haha, Saturday, we taught this guy, who then proceeded to take us to a bunch of friends he knew for the next couple of hours. I asked him why he was so eager to help us, he hadn't even prayed yet to know if what we've said was true, and he said, "I trust you and I just want to be a missionary". Then I asked him what religion he was before and he said, "Catholic, but now I'm a Roman." My companion said, "You mean Mormon?" and he said, "Oh yes, that.". Haha oh great. The people you meet:) I figure it's just best to laugh at these situations because I'll likely have them the rest of my mission. 
Keep striving to strengthen your testimony in all that you do! There is always so much to learn in the gospel!

Love you all so much! More than I can say!
Love Sister Russon

I'm A Trainer!!!!

Hello from the Philippines!,

This week is the first week of the new transfer. Transfer day is Tuesday....however, I will not be transferring with most of the rest of the mission because I am training this next cycle! Which means I'll be training for the next 2 cycles because training lasts 12 weeks.
Sister Erandio and I got a call from President Maurer asking if we'd both accept this calling. We will be driving down to Tacloban for a trainers meeting on Wednesday, and then we will meet our anaks - our trainees - on Thursday and go to the areas we've been assigned. What will most likely happen is I will stay in Calbayog with my trainee, and Sister Erandio will be transferring to a new area to white wash with her trainee.

Why is this happening when we are still both so early in our missions? Other than our batch, the next biggest batch is going home this week. And...8 of the sisters that are leaving are STLs in the mission. Which means that all of the older sisters out there in the mission that probably would have trained, need to fill those STL spots. Plus, there are 9 new sisters coming in, which means 9 trainers are needed.

Heaven help me!!! I still hardly understand what anyone says. It's like I know what words they are using, but in how they phrase the sentence or what exactly they are asking me with those words, I have no idea. Last week there's no way I thought I was ready, but this will be good for me. Your prayers however will be much appreciated.

One of the members has a monkey!!

Person of the Week? > President Nicandro. He is the elder's quorum President and he is one of the most spiritually uplifting people I have ever met. He absolutely LOVES the missionaries. He is always doing everything he can for us and feeding us and giving us stuff. His testimony is nothing less than amazing. And he  takes elders with him several times each week to go visit members and less actives. He is also a convert and has had a very hard life.

Then the missionaries came and first taught him the Plan of Salvation. It completely changed his life. He pulled his life together, and now he's one of our branch's best leaders, an extremely successful entrepreneur, and the nicest guy you'd ever meet.

It's amazing how much the gospel changes people.

My little spiritual thought for this week is on trials and the impact they can have. There is nothing in the whole world that can build you and strengthen you and that of enduring through a trial and making it out better than you were before. Nothing could give you that knowledge, strength, confidence, testimony, than enduring through that trial did. That is a huge part of this mortal life - so that we can learn how to deal with struggles and problems to the best of our ability.

In the mission I've seen this a lot in myself. It'll be really really hard for a couple weeks, and when I finally realize I'm okay and still alive, I think, "Wow, look how far I've come now compared to myself a couple weeks ago."
This whole training process I know is going to be one of those experiences. By the time I'm done training, I will be halfway through my mission and will be a much better missionary than I am now. Hopefully that thought can outweigh the fear that I know will strike soon haha.

There's nothing in the world like serving a mission. It's one of the best things you could ever do.
Have a wondrous week everyone! Love you all!
Love Sister Russon

The Plan of Happiness

Hello everyone!!! Sounds like everyone is healthy and happy and enjoying life:)

 Thank you for all of the emails, prayers, and support. Trust me, no effort is wasted. Not even in the slightest.

 I have learned probably 20 different things this week. That's how it is usually for every week. I'm getting nervous, because the cycle is ending and what most likely will happen is my companion will get transferred and I will stay here. Hahah this is incredibly nerve wracking! I hardly understand what anyone is saying, yes even still, and because of it, those we teach are much much closer with my companion than they are with me. The unknown is scary.

 But the biggest thing that I've thought about this week is happiness. There's a lot of things you feel like you figure out in life and you've got done, and then you go on a mission and your whole world is flipped upside down, and you have to relearn a lot of things you thought you already knew.

Confidence is a big one of those things. Another one is happiness. Happiness is the number one thing I feel like I've always known how to find with ease, no matter any trying situation I've been placed in. Coming on the mission however, made it more difficult to find.

At the beginning of this week, on a down day, I thought to myself, "I just am not happy". That's all. There's nothing more to it. Thus far I've tried my best to avoid thoughts like that because there's no good use for them. But this particular day I was struggling. My thoughts progressed into things such as, "How can I be fully happy without knowing these people? Without knowing how to help them because I don't know what they need or what they're saying? Without having my family and friends with me?..." Blah blah blah blah blah.

 And this is what I have learned. Nothing is permanent. Any negative feeling are always relieved.

Even if it takes a long time, they are always temporary and happiness in something, even if it's small, is always found again. Happiness is also in some part or another, a decision. There is no good that comes from sorrowing over the things that happen. It won't change anything. It certainly won't make you feel better. I am in a place experiencing things I would never have dreamt of. There are people all around me experiencing things I never dream of having to deal with now. We all have different trials and experiences but one thing is consistent. That is our loving Heavenly Father and his desire for us to experience joy and happiness in this life.

 The Plan of Salvation is also called the Plan of Happiness for a reason. I know that if we pray for help, our loving Father in Heaven will help us. Especially when we may not always be able to pray for certain trials to go away. We can, however, always pray that Heavenly Father will help us in dealing with them and to not be so discouraged.

 On topic of the Plan of Salvation, that brings me to the person I am writing about this week - Sister Sadie Wells. I'd like to write something for her. For the many who read this that may not know, she was a girl I went to high school with, who just recently was killed in a car accident on her mission. I didn't know her hardly at all, but I wished I had. Everyone I knew only spoke good things about her. 

Being a missionary is already a hard thing without things like this happening.

There are several missionaries I've been with thus far when they received news they had lost a loved one back home. Their strength through these difficult times seems similar as to that which I have heard about the wonderful spirit that was present at Sadie's memorial service. I know that the Plan of Salvation is real and that we will get to be with our loved ones again. I can't imagine going through life without this knowledge. Of course we get to see our loved ones again!

Our Heavenly Father loves us dearly and has sent us to this life for a very special purpose - to learn and grow and experience mortality so that we could become something better. And the blessings we learn and our lost loved ones will be waiting for us when we are finished. I'm sure it's much harder for us than it is for them, because they have that constant eternal perspective. My thoughts and prayers go out to Sadie and her family.

 Life in the Philippines is hard. Not just for me, but much harder for the people that live here. The things that some people have to go through is just often incomprehensible to our minds for those of us who live in a country so blessed as America is. We have much to be grateful for. That, I've found, is the key. The key to happiness is gratitude. If we are aware of how truly blessed we are and the good things going for us in our lives, sorrow and sadness do not stay long.

All is well. Have a wonderful week. Strive to strengthen your testimonies.

 Love Sister Russon

Play to Your Strengths

Hello Pamilya!

 Compared to last week, it has been just a plain old normal week of talking to people and teaching. Yesterday, we taught these two investigators we have - whom we love to pieces, they are wonderful! - the law of chasity. This was a big deal because they've been doing really well in progressing and their testimonies are strong, but we needed to have this discussion with them because following the Law of Chastity really can make for stronger future families for them both.

 Suprisingly, they took it wonderfully. They seemed to really understand the blessings they can receive from it and they decided right then and there that they were going to get married! Hahaha, in my American cultured mind, I was freaking out. I was thinking this is way too fast; we don't want them to rush into this decision... but everyone assured me that that's what the culture is like here. People just up and decide to get married that quickly, sometimes with a week in advance.

 Anyways, because of this they will likely be two more baptisms we will have in March. Which is super exciting because it will probably be the first one I will get the privilege of attending while here on the mission!

 This next part right here is the biggest thing I learned this week and it's all about perspective. Everyone in the mission talks about how usually it's somewhat of a struggle for a foreigner to get along with a Filipino companion. I've always thought, "why?!" Every missionary I've met thus far from here is absolutely wonderful. This week, I really realized why, and it's all because of the attitude here towards foreigners.

 I don't think anyone will fully understand this unless you have been to the Philippines but people here think Americans are the most beautiful thing they have ever seen on the planet. Not a joke. I realized this week just how...unimportant (maybe that's the right word?) that must make my companion feel. Everywhere we go, people want to talk to me, but they don't talk to her. I get told I'm 'Mahusay' (pretty) at least 10 times a day by random strangers, people stare and point everywhere we go, and today someone even yelled at Sister Erandio because she wasn't holding her umbrella above my head in the heat. If I wasn't a missionary and could actually speak the language, that guy would've gotten it. It's so hard because there's nothing I can do about it, but at the same time, I'm getting a better idea of just how inferior it can make someone feel when their companion is getting that kind of attention.

So after that whole concept really hit me, I've been trying to be an angel of a companion. I know my attempts are far from it but better to try than not. The whole thing is weird, because a lot of people envy the attention I get and I absolutely hate it. They're thinking highly of me because I'm white, not because I've done anything special they know of. Haha, it's just such a different experience.

 On the other hand, another thing I have learned this week is how to use it to my advantage. Let me explain with this quote, "You are the falcon, you will never be the eagle". This is a quote directly from the man of my life, my father, which he would use during my soccer days. The point was, I am never going to be the big strong player that can push other players around and use my weight to my advantage. It's not in the cards for me. I can't be the eagle. But what I can be is the falcon on the field, because I was fast and quick and could use that to my advantage.

 This is the notion I have taken here in the mission field. I used to get so frustrated that I couldn't talk on the same level with people as other Filipinos could, because of my choppy language and just that I'm a foreigner - of course they're going to feel more comfortable around other Filipinos. But what I've found I am good at is that first conversation because people want to listen to me. I'm better at the OYMing - stands for Open Your Mouth - what the missionaries refer to when you first go up to someone and ask if you can share a message with them.

 We can't be everything to everyone. It's important to play to your strengths, but at the same time be focusing on strenthening your weaknesses as well.

 Last thing: I wanted to share something I read this week in Jesus the Christ by James E Talmage. "In the contemplation of the miracles wrought by Christ, we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding. In this field, science has not yet advanced far enough to analyze and explain. To deny the actuality of miracles on the ground that, because we cannot comprehend the means, the reported results are fictitious, is to arrogate to the human mind the attribute of omniscience, by implying that what man cannot comprehend cannot be, and that therefore, he is able to comprehend all that is. The miracles of record in the Gospels [Mathew, Mark, Luke, John] are fully supported by evidence as are many of the historical events which call forth neither protest nor demand for further proof. To the believer in the divinity of Christ, the miracles are sufficiently attested; to the unbeliever they appear but as myths and fables."

 This can be applied to not just the miracles of Christ, but also to everything else - the existence of a God being a crucial one. Before the above paragraph, Talmage talks about the many things that have come to pass that were at one point nothing but miracles - present day technology, man on the moon, etc.

 Faith is a huge part of God's plan and is crucial to see miracles. In every account in the Bible, Christ never permits a miracle to be done because someone demands of him a sign and simply will not believe it can be done without seeing it for themselves. Those who have faith first, are the ones who receive the miracles in their lives that prove to them what they believe in is true.

 Furthermore, I challenge you all to read, study, and ponder the talk Lord, Increase Our Faith By Elder John K. Carmack. It's so good!!!

 Love you all. Love this gospel. It's changed me in ways nothing else could and I've seen it do the same for so many people here as well. Be happy!
Love Sister Russon

Monday, March 14, 2016

5 Months In - Reaching Spiritual Milestones

Hello Sweet Family! And Happy Valentines Day!

 Let's talk about spirituality. It's an interesting thing in how it plays a role here vs. the U.S. For the most part, everyone here believes in Christ. It is absolutely unheard of for someone to be "not religious" or to not believe in some God.

For some, depending on who reads this, I know the whole nature of spirituality may be pretty foreign, especially considering the fact that for many in America, the extent of spirituality is yoga, let's be honest.

I don't know how to explain this other than saying that in being here, you can almost feel the difference. People have the power of belief. The hard part in teaching is finding where their faith comes in. For some reason this week I feel like I have gone miles in building my faith and testimony - especially these last few days - because of the things I've learned and all the crazy things that have happened. It's like I'm reaching a point or depth of it I didn't even realize existed before and it's such a learning experience.

 What may you ask happened this week?

I'll start with my Human of the Week: Sister F: from Park City; 2 cycles ahead of me in the mission; and was Sister G's (my MTC companion) trainer. She is now in my district as well and because their area is so far away from the church, she and her new companion often come stay with me and Sister Erandio for church or meetings. Roommates!

 A couple of days ago, we get a call that she and her companion - Sister E (philippina who's in my batch - came with me from Manila) are coming to Calbayog as fast as they can because Sister E is very sick and it is an emergency.

We had to go get a specific medicine for her and then meet them at our apartment. That night we took care of Sister E and calmed her and talked to Sister F because of everything she just went through.

This is what happened: Sister E had been throwing up for days and they couldn't figure out why and nothing was working. One day when she says she's okay, they go out to work and she suddenly starts shaking. She leaned over and it looked like she was having a seizure (Sister F's words). Once her body regains control, they go to a members house nearby and by this point Sister E is sobbing because she doesn't know what is wrong with her.

 One thing you should know about the Filipino people is though they are very faithful and spiritual, they are also EXTREMELY superstitious. Because of Sister E's crying there was soon crowds of people gathered around her, all of them giving their opinions about what was wrong and shouting orders (in all their various languages) at Sister F (who's still not fluent) about what she should do for her companion.

 For the most part, everyone thought she'd been poisoned. No, not with food. They believe if someone stares at you too long and thinks bad thoughts, they can poison you.

As this is happening, a black butterfly flies into the house - another superstition. Just complete chaos.

So everyone swore she'd been 'poisoned' and insisted she be taken to a Faith Healer. After declining several times the crowd became too much and they took her to a faith healer nearby. The 'Faith Healer' takes Sister E's sprite bottle, opens it, waves his hand over it, and mutters some words. Then has Sister E drink it.

Sister F takes her home straight after, the crowd follows, she grabs as much stuff as she can get, and they hop on a ride here to Calbayog.

 By the time they got here, we had to convince Sister E that we did not believe she was 'poisoned', and that there was no bad spirit in the house because the fire alarm went off....another story.

 So that was quite the experience just hearing their story and all that happened afterward.

 That night, I watched the new Bible movies the church just put out. Sister F's mom sent them to her in a package. The parts I got to watch I just loved, especially because I have so recently been studying the life of Christ in the Bible and Jesus the Christ.

 I absolutely love the way they portray Christ and we ended up staying up til 2 in the morning just having the most spiritual talk and discussing the mission and everything we're doing here. Honestly, that girl can change lives. She just has the absolute most profound things to say about the gospel. It was just such a good experience.

This is one thing I really loved that she spoke about. A man who took part in the making of the Bible videos is in her ward, and got their young woman's group an in in going to go see the site where it was filmed. Getting there was super weird, because it was in the middle of nowhere, and like a ghost town. She said it was like the church made sure it was hidden. The church put so much money into this it was crazy. They pretty much built a tiny Jerusalem. They had experts come in to make the architecture correct to the time period, and they dedicated the whole area. The actors were searched for intensively and the whole thing was just such a spiritual experience for everyone involved.

 This sweet old man who had taken part in the behind the scenes stuff was the one who guided them around, telling them about everything. One thing that was really cool was the weather, he said. It was like God was extending his hand to assist in the film production. He said the weather was just unreal in how it perfectly fit every single scene they filmed - the rain, the sunset, a gust of wind here. It was amazing.

He spoke about how unbelievably real it felt each time they'd start shooting. All of the actors spoke of it too. There is a scene where the Savior is being prepared for the cross and he is leaning up against a gate with someone whipping his back. They had to stop filming several times because the actor who was doing the whipping couldn't control himself. He would just break out sobbing. He wasn't actually whipping the guy of course but he just felt the realness of it. He'd gain control and they'd start filming again and then have to stop soon after. I wish so bad I could've been a part of this project!!! What a cool experience!

 So my challenge to all of you is if you get the chance, get the Bible videos and watch it with your family on a Sunday or Family Home evening or something. Watch them at a time when it can be given reverence and attention. Find the scriptures that go with the stories or read the excerpts from Jesus the Christ.

 The language is going well. I can lead most lessons and we've met some really great people this week. Also, I am speaking waray waray still in this area! I don't think I told anyone that! In Allen, I was speaking waray waray to them, but they were mostly speaking Allenese and Tagalog to me. Getting here, they are speaking the same language I am, for the most part. There were definitley some more words I needed to memorize. You'd think I'd catch on pretty quick to the change because they're now speaking what I am, but it definitely took some getting used to because it was a change from Allen.

 The things I'm learning on this mission....just things I didn't even know you could learn or even existed. I hope I can keep it going.

Missions are the hardest but the best.

 Have a wonderful week! Spread the love. Give a Valentine even if it's late:) Love you all! Sister Russon

The Ups & Downs of Mission Life

One thing I've realized this week is that here's so many people that have been put in my life, not because I think I've impacted them, but because they have impacted me.

This has just been the most humbling experience and I still can't believe how fast it's going. I reach my 5 month mark this week which means I'm almost 1/3 done with my mission!

 This week in district meeting, we had the opportunity to watch a worldwide missionary broadcast. The First Presidency hasn't done a broadcast like this for over a decade. There was approximately 1 missionary representing each mission live at the broadcast, so that was cool! Over 400 missions worldwide and over 75,000 missionaries. Amazing. It was really fun to watch and receive instruction from the faces we all know so well. I feel like the Twelve are like family or something haha.

 Still loving my companion. She is a blessing in my life and is really helping me with the language.

 Human of the Week: Nanay P - this is a sweet old lady in her early 80's who is a recent convert to the church. I have never seen a human being in my whole life in worse condition than I've seen this lady. She lives in a tiny shack with her adorable little old husband. The two have had 16 children over the course of their life, but only 11 of them are still living. 10 of these 11 however life in nice homes all around their little shack...and they do absolutely nothing to help them.

This little old couple can barely walk; all they eat is rice all day and lay on this bench in their shack, and attempt occasionally to do their laundry. It's like their kids have just left them to die. Nanay specifically is very very sick. She has some sort of disease that makes her stomach puff up. The church has offered to pay for hospitalization for her through the tithing of the members, but for legal purposes they needed a relative of theirs to sign the paperwork and take responsibility of her while she is in the hospital. All of their children refused.

 After many prayers, all of a sudden, the 11th child showed up. She'd been living in Manila and felt she should visit her parents. After talking with her, she just completely sobbed over the fact that none of her siblings have done anyhing to help them. She's taken work off for a month to take care of her parents. Nanay is in the hospital too and will undergo surgery soon. I don't think either of these two have much longer to live because of their age and the condition of their health, but it's been a blessing to see the happiness that this 11th child has brought them.

I think they really have finally just felt some support and love, instead of feeling abandoned in their little shack. It's just...I don't know what the word for it is - humbling? That probably comes closest. 

Thanks for all the love and support always! I love you all!

Make sure to keep the gospel and Heavenly Father number one in your lives and everything will always be okay.

 Love you! Sister Russon