Monday, April 28, 2014

Transferred Way East to Choibalsan

Dear Family,

So this week was full of surprises. At the beginning of the week two of our investigators, Tsalthmon and Ankhbayar, dropped us.That was two pretty big bummers, but Heavenly Father must have a different plan.

Alright, well I am just going to cut to the chase. So President Benson called us on Thursday, and asked us to come in for a meeting with him.  I always have that, "Oooooooohhh, Marc got called to the Office" feeling, as if I did something bad back in high school.  The walk down to the church is always very long and my mind couldn't stop thinking about what this could be about.   "Am I in trouble?"  "Can't be, I am being obedient." "WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THIS ABOUT?"  Anyways, I arrive and President calls me in.  He says, "Have a seat," ... I sit down... "Pack your bags, you are going to Choibalsan."  I was in shock, and I repeated back to him what he had just said to me to make sure I was hearing right.  He said, "You will fly out Saturday."

So here is the low down.  From what the AP's (Assistants to the President) told me and other Mongolians, I'm the first American elder in Choibalsan in about 3 years.   So I am dang lucky and so humbled to be here.  Next, my companion and I are the only missionaries here. My companion is Elder Khash-Erdene, and the crazy thing is, he is the Branch President!  He is a 24-year old elder from Darkhan.  He is a stud and a great missionary.   He is fluent in Mongolian (obviously), English, Swedish, and Russian.  He lived in Sweden for 3 years with his brother and attended a university there.

Choibalsan is the farthest place EAST that missionaries go here in Mongolia.  It is 410 miles east of Ulaanbaatar and about 20 miles from the China border, give or take, and a little over 10 hours away if we traveled by car.  It is the capital of the Dornod Province and the population is about  40,000.   Choibalsan actually has about 100 members who attend Sacrament Meeting each week, I hear.  This place is the flattest place on earth.  Literally!  No mountains, no trees, just 360 degrees of straight horizon. I included a couple pictures of it below.  You can Google it and see what I'm talking about.  The weather here is great too!

Back to my shock and awe....President Benson told me that my English sponsor approved this move, but now I need a sponsor here in Choibalsan. They are working really hard to find me one, but if they can't, I will return to UB in two weeks.  But President did say not to worry about it and that he truly thinks they will find me a new sponsor here. So pray for me!  Next he said that I just have to stay low key for a while. There are no Americans here, so he told me that there is absolutely no street contacting.  Also I cannot wear a suit, only on Sundays to church.  It would just look too out-of-place.

So I left for Choibalsan Saturday morning via plane. That was fun!  No scenery though, just desolate Mongolian land.  I flew with the Mission Clerk, Onon, and President Benson's 1st counselor and wife.  The flight was about an hour and a half, and pretty smooth.  No complaints.   Sunday, I was called by President Benson and was sustained in Sacrament meeting as the Ward Clerk. Yup, I have been in Mongolia for two and a half months, I'm not very fluent in the language and now I work the MLS program on the Church Mongolian, not English.  I feel pretty deep in over my head, and I don't know exactly why I was called to be here and also as the Ward Clerk, but I am grateful and I am ready to serve.  I know the Lord knows me and is helping me here in this calling.  President Benson said that I was called  here to support and sustain the Branch here. Our main focus is to reactivate the inactive and support the active members. Also, I teach Seminary every morning from 6:30 to 7:30, and we also are in charge of the Family Home Evening program every Monday evening at the church, Mutual on Wednesday evenings, Friday Firesides, and also we teach the Institute classes.

I am truly blessed and grateful for God's plan for me.   Gotta go.......

I love you guys,

Elder Harris

Before my transfer to Choibalsan, here is my companion and I in the
Bayanzurkh Branch.

I'm here.  I just arrived in Choibalsan. 

The land is flat as can be. 

My companion, Elder Khash-Erdene, and I at Elder Zina's family's home! (He's the elder from Mongolia that I met and was friends with in the MTC. 

Choibalsan has a new church building. This picture belongs to another blog. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Althmaa's Baptism was the Highlight of my Week!

Dear Family!

Today is my companion's birthday and we have a lot of activities planned, so this will have to be short and too the point!

So this past Friday, we had an all-day Service Project at the Bayanzurkh Building! We took everything out of this huge storage room, organized it, got rid of half of it, and put it all back in.  It's weird to say this, but we had such a great time!  Then right after that, we went home, got showered and headed over to the Chingeltei Building for Althmaa's baptism!  We got there around 6 p.m. and the baptism was scheduled to start at 6:30.  Pretty much no one was there except Elder Palmer and the sign language investigators.  I was expecting a full house....thinking I am still in America.  But that didn't matter!  Anyway, I got changed into my white baptismal clothes and then Althmaa showed up!  We took a lot of pictures, and got caught up because I haven't seen her in a month or so.  Her mom came, which was so great!  They just kept telling us "thank you, thank you!"   It was the sweetest thing.  You could just see the happiness on Althmaa's face.  This has been a long time coming, and she was so ready!  Soon after, the program started.  Two of Althmaa's church member friends spoke and we sang a few hymns.  By this point, I had the butterflies like crazy. I was so nervous, and I was just repeating the prayer in my head over and over again, in Mongolian, of course.  Then I just told myself to relax and focus on the Spirit.  The Spirit took over, needless to say, and I was ready to go.  I asked her what her full name was (Mongolians' names are usually their Father's name followed by their name).  I never knew her father's name, but all she answered was, "Althmaa."  I asked a couple more times and I don't think she understood, and neither did I so I  said, "Okay...Only Althmaa it is!"   So we walked into the font, and I started and all I said was "Althmaa," then I was stopped.  I was told to say her father's name too!  So I asked her again what her father's name was and then she understood!   So here we go again!  Name and Prayer were flawless, but the dunk wasn't so flawless.  The font was about mid-thigh level on pretty low.  So when I baptized her, her legs came out of the water!  So here we go...try again!  The second time it was great!  Afterwards, she just looked at me and said, "Thank you!"  We hurried and got changed and then she bore her testimony.   It was such a great experience!  My first baptism.   Something I will never forget.  I am so grateful to be here, and I am humbled to know that I was chosen by a Prophet of God to serve here.  The Mongolian people are so great, and they are so strong and ready for the Gospel. You can see it in their eyes.  They just shine with happiness, something you don't see in other people here. When you walk down the street you can tell who are  members and who are not.  It is obvious.  They have something different.

Then on Saturday, we were supposed to have our other baptism, Ankhbayar, but he didn't show up.   It was really sad.  We haven't been able to get a hold of him since then either.  Please pray for him, and for us.  Maybe Heavenly Father has a different plan, who knows.  We just have faith in good things to come.  But Sister Ackley and Sister Sneddon had two baptisms in our branch this past Saturday!  It was a great service, and we now have two new girls in Young Womens!

Also, my companion and I found two new investigators this week!  Such sweet guys!  Tseran-Chimed, who is 21, and Tugulthdor, who is 20.  Tseran-Chimed is Chosen.  It is so obvious.  In about 3 days' time, I think he racked up about 20 hours at the church!  He just loves it.  Last night there was a Fireside at the Bayanzurkh Building on "The Work of Salvation."  Tseran-Chimed came to church and stayed for all 3 hours, THEN waited there for an hour and a half while my comp and I went to give the sacrament to an old man in our branch who lives 35 minutes away, then he stayed for  the 2 hour Fireside!  He loved it all and had tons of questions about missionary work! I am just really excited about these two new investigators we have because our branch is in dire need of Melchizedek Priesthood-aged young men. More to come about them and their progress next week.

We also had Zone Conference this week.  This is where we have a 7-hour training with all the missionaries in our Zone with President Benson.  It was such a great time.  Seriously such a spiritual high.  We learned a lot of things, but the main focus was on not getting offended; not getting offended from church members, our family, and especially our companions.  It was a really humbling experience and I definitely heard some  things that I needed to hear to become a better disciple of Jesus Christ.  Also, everyone in the Zone had a personal interview with President.  President Benson is truly called of God to be a Mission President here in Mongolia.  He's 35 years old and has the wisdom of a man who has been around forever.  I really love that man. He knows exactly what we need and exactly what Mongolia needs.

I love this work.  I love you guys.  I gotta go. Basketball is calling!


Elder Harris 

Elder Harris, Elder Ulziibayar, and some other elder whose name we don't know!

Elder Harris and Elder Ulziibayar with Althmaa, after her baptism. 

Elder Harris, Althmaa, Elder Ulziibayar. Elder Ulziibayar came for Althmaa's baptism!

Elder Harris, Althmaa, and Elders Ulziibayar and Baldandorj.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Conference Weekend

Dear Family,

How is everyone? I am pleased to report that General Conference as a missionary is ten times better than sitting on the couch at home watching it.  This weekend, we (meaning all of the American elders and sisters) gathered on the 3rd floor of the Bayanzurkh Building to watch all the sessions.  On Saturday, in between sessions, a herd of us American missionaries heading over the "Sky Department Store" (the Mongolian Target) to get food and snacks.  It was really funny.  So many Americans...well only like 30.  On Sunday in between sessions, we had a huge potluck lunch, which included PB&J sandwiches!  So nice to get a taste of America!  It was really one of my most cherished experiences here in the mission so far…watching Conference, that is!  Sitting in a church…in Mongolia…with 30 American missionaries watching a Prophet of God speak about us and to us.  Really, I can't describe it, but I will never forget it.

Conference…Well this is what I learned... In my opinion, the overall message was "Defend your Faith," and "Families."  Elder Holland was so awesome and direct in his talk from Saturday Morning Session. He had a different countenance to him.  Maybe you guys didn't really notice it, but all the Elders and Sisters here thought so.  When he said, "I am more certain of the Restoration (and other things) than I am certain that I am standing here in front of you right now."  Wow!  We all were like, "Woah."  I loved when he said, "Discipleship…It is the strait and narrow path that doesn’t have a lot of latitude."  Such a true statement.   Such a powerful talk about Defending the Faith!  Pres. Eyring gave a great talk about Families.  I love my family!  Elder Nelson gave a great talk about Faith.  "Your faith will be tested and challenged."  Also I loved when he asked us, “What are we tied to?" If you really think about it, it is such a valid question for all Latter Day Saints. 

Again….Defending your Faith.   Quenton L. Cook's talk about family history work was great. His statement, "We will be saviors to our family through ordinances, both living and dead," really hit home to me.  I really have gained an testimony and understanding of why Family History is so important.  #1: It is a commandment.   In Priesthood Session, Elder Uchtdoft gave a great talk about Addiction, and he crowned it with, "We are sons and daughters of the most high. WE are not meant to be shackled to earth, wearing a straight jacket made by ourselves." My favorite talk of all came from Pres. Eyring in Priesthood Session, all about Heroes.  So great!  All priesthood holders are lighted candles to the world.  Hands down the best talk of the weekend…..again about Priesthood holders Defending their Faith.  President  Monson’s talk in Priesthood session about Courage and Holding true to your Faith was so great also.  Jabari Parker's fathers quote was solid too.   Sister Stevens’ one liner literally hit all of us so hard when she said, "The Gospel isn't weight, it is wings." So true.  So solid.  It made me really think of you mom…just saying.  I could see you up there giving that same talk.  Other talks about Faith came from William R. Walker and Lawrence Corbridge.  Then Elder Bednar didn't let anyone down with his talk about, "The Load."  How true is that?  The Load is what delivers us.  We all fall into the trap of thinking our  load is holding us back and weighing us down, but in the end, where would we be without it?

So I hope you get the point.  We need to Defend our Faith.  We are all just the fulfillment of prophecy, whether we fall away or we stand firm in the faith and hold to the rod. You choose what you will be tied to in these last days. Good thing is we already know who will win, so the choice should be simple.  Let us all make the right choice for ourselves, our family, and our posterity.

This week’s work was slow and dragging. We only had 5 lessons all week.   It’s hard not to  feel like a waste of time when you have a week like that, but I have faith that through the Lord, He is just molding us to be what He needs.  Salvation didn't come easy.  We are working hard, but we just got cancelled on a lot this week.  That is hard, but we just have to keep kicking & stroking.  It will come.  Please pray for us to find people to teach.  As of right now, we have four investigators.  That is not enough.

The baptism of Sister Althmaa was postponed until this Friday because she will be getting baptized together with her younger sister.   That will be such a neat experience.  I am so pumped.  Her baptism is Friday the 25th, then we have another on Saturday, Ankhbayar.  The fruits of our labors are showing, and that is so promising in these hard times.

I love you all so much. Please work everyday to lay your treasures up in Heaven. We can't afford to slack.

Until next week…Kick & Stroke.

Elder Harris

This isn't a great picture, but it's all the American Elders minus a few at Conference.

Just chillin' with the sisters I came out with during conference weekend. 

Just arrived in our area (Shar-Khad) for the day. Gotta get to work.

This is Elder and Sister Stewart. Hs is the mission doctor leaving this week. Great couple! I'll write more about them in a letter I'm sending. I will miss them. 

This is the recipe we submitted for the mission cookbook that is coming out. A Mongolian drink: boiling hot milk with rice, but I put the American spin on it... boiling chocolate milk with rice! Mmmm.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Lord's Hand is in This Work

Dear Family,

This week has been great!  I have seen the Lords hand in our work this week so much, and I am incredible grateful for it!   Just to answer your question, we will watch all the General Conference sessions next week.  They have to translate it into Mongolian first. So we are looking forward to that!

So the whole mission received a letter from President Benson.  He is calling this month a "Baptism Month."  He wants every companionship to have at least 1 baptism, and hopefully more.  If this happens, there will be over 40 baptism his month, which will be incredible!  So we got straight to work.   He wants us to invite and commit the investigator in the first contact to baptism, so no matter what we taught, we have just extended that invitation!  It has been great!  We found a new investigator at the church this week.  His name is Tsalthmon.  He is 30 years old and has an incredible story.  He was working in Korea a few years back, and he was driving his motorcycle while intoxicated when he was hit by a car.  So this being said, his body is pretty messed up.  Bad leg and hand, but his spirits are great.  He admits that he is a partier, but he is looking for change.  How great is that!  Also, he is a huge fan of American rappers so I have rapped with him a little bit, but not enough to drive the spirit away!  ;)  He is so great, and he has committed to baptism April 25th.   He told us his parents are Buddhist and that Buddhism just wasn't for him.   Just today, Monday, we found him chilling at the church.  I asked him what he was doing and he literally was just hanging out.   We can tell that he just really wants to know more.   Yesterday in church he participated in all three blocks, especially priesthood meeting.   More to come regarding him
Great guy.  He is so receptive and at church yesterday he was involved and participated in the investigators class and priesthood

Upcoming Baptisms:

April 11th:  We will have my first Baptism.  Remember Althma from my first area?  Well she is getting baptized this week and asked her new Elders if I could do it.  President Benson approved so I am so excited.  Elder Ulziibayar and I taught her everything, so it will be a very special experience for me and especially for her.

April 18th:  My companion, Elder Baldandorj, will baptize his mother.

April 19th:  Another investigator named Himbayar.  We are teaching him now.  He is great, and has expressed a desire to serve a mission.  He's an all around great kid, and he will be a great member.  My companion, taught him in his last area, but then he moved into Bayanzurkh, so Elder Baldandorj has know him for a few months. From what he tells us, he has never missed church on Sunday.

April 25th:  Brother Bimbaa and our new investigator, Tsalthmon.

The Lord is truly blessing us.  I can see his hand in this work, and it is so obvious.  A man, Tsalthmon, a self-admitted partier, just shows up at church and says he wants to change and is now hanging out at the church.  Coincidence?  I think not.

So we have also been teaching my three English students the Gospel.  They live in Shar-Khad, which is my favorite area within our area by far.  It is kinda ghetto and the shadiest characters are everywhere.  Everyone stares at me because I am probably the first white guy they have seen in years.  But getting back to my English students, their Grandma wants "girl" English teachers for them, even though their mother approved.  So I, not wanting to rock the boat or do anything that would jeopardize my visa, decided that we will just pass them along to the sisters in our area, Sister Ackley and Sneddon.  I'll be honest, it was hard.  I wanted to keep teaching them, but that is just the pride in me.   I am trying so hard to be more humble every single day.  Pride is the destroyer and there is no room for that out here.

So since you all have seen conference, did China open yet? Any special news?

I love the Book of Mormon!  This week I have almost finished Alma.  I love the 2000 Stripling Warriors so dang much!   Such studs!   I have always loved them, but as a missionary it is so much better.  I would like to share something I have never noticed. They are referred to numerous times as "little."  Alma 56:19...Our little Army.   Alma 56:30... My little sons...  Alma 56:33... Little Army.   Alma 56:39... My little sons.  I have always thought that these young boys were buff and huge.  At least that is the artist's depiction.  But no! They were small!  Small in numbers and size.  Even though they were small,  Alma 53:20 says...."They were true at all times to whatever they were trusted."  Alma 56:47..."Taught by their mothers."   Alma 57:20..."Firm and undaunted."  Alma 57:21..."Obeyed with exactness."   And this is my favorite, Alma 57:27...."They are young and their minds are firm and they do put their trust in God continually."   Can we all just strive to be like these little guys!  THESE LITTLE GIANTS!  They were delivered from two battles not because they were strong and the best warriors, but they all lived because they had the FAITH OF A GIANT!  Sorry I am getting carried away but I just love this story so much more now.  Right now, there are about 88,000 Stripling Warriors throughout the world.  Missionaries.  Small, but "firm and undaunted."  We learned in the MTC that when everything is said and done, less that 1% of everyone who ever lived will have been missionaries.  Crazy, huh?   We are small.  So what?  We are bringing the world His truth.

Elder Harris  

One of our investigators, Tsalthmon

The view from my apartment window. 

Our apartment. It's pretty nice.  

Your package arrived! Thanks mom and dad!

Nice view from our apartment. 

One of my favorite meals here: eggs, meat, veggies, and rice, oh and a dumpling-like thing. 

Some gross lake fish.... but I ate it though.

Little kids from our area. 

They love us!

Cow chasing in Shar-khad. 

Quiet.... Quiet...

Got 'em!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Just a Quick Letter This Week

Dear Family,

Well, I will apologize in advance.  I don't have much time today.  We are moving into another apartment, I have a new companion, and we have 1000 things to do.  So sorry, but here it goes.

Last Tuesday my short-term missionary companion left back to the countryside all of a sudden.  Since I needed a new companion and it wasn't transfer day yet, I was put into a threesome with Elder Faber and Elder Ulziijargal.  I had a great time, they are great elders, but I got NO work done in MY area, which really bothers me!   But, hey, what can you do?   So I was with them all week and we taught quite a few lessons to their investigators, so that was really nice.

On Saturday we had a mission-wide service project!  It was really fun!  All the missionaries split up and went to their church building and cleaned the buildings from top to bottom, inside and out.  It was really enjoyable and it felt great to be there with 20 other missionaries serving!

Today is transfer day!  As expected, I received a new trainer and a permanent companion!   His name is Elder Baldandorj!  He has been on his mission for 7 months and is now also a Zone Leader.  I am very excited about that, and I know we will work great together!  I am very grateful for him already and for his welcoming attitude!    The best thing is that his mom is getting baptized in a few weeks, on April 18th, and HE GETS TO BAPTIZE HER!   It will be such a privilege to see that!   So today, we've already got a lot of things done.  We have moved to our new apartment across the city.  It was the AP's apartment, so IT IS STINKIN' NICE!  We have an incredible view of the whole city, so that is very nice.

Besides Elder Baldanjorj's mom, we have two baptisms scheduled for April 18th, so I am very excited about that!  I hope and pray everyday that they will progress as planned and be able to enter the waters of baptism on that day.  Please pray for me and my companion and our investigators.

This past week, I had the opportunity to read from Alma quite a bit during personal study, particularly Alma giving counsel to his sons.  I love that. It is very applicable to all of us because we all have a Father who just wants the best for us.   I am very excited to get back to work in MY area (Bayanzurkh) and I'm grateful that I didn't get transferred to a new area!  I know good things lie ahead here and I can't wait to see the fruits of our labors. 

I know the Lord knows me.  I know he is looking over Elder Baldandorj and I, and he is right here with us.  I love that feeling!   I feel so close to my Heavenly Father, and I can feel such a change working in me.  I know this is where I am supposed to be right now.

I love you guys!  Stay Safe!

Elder Xappuc (Harris)

My new companion and trainer, Elder Baldandorj.

When we aren't catching a bus, we are trying to get a taxi. 

Service project at our church building.

Elder Farmer and I. I will miss him. 

Elder Faber and I. I tripled-up with him and his companion for this week. 

Church clean-up service project.