Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Good Week in the Branch and a Testimony of Tithing

Dear Family,

Well this week was a good one. We got so much done, but yet there is always so much more to do. I'll get started.....

This week, I got pretty stinkin' sick and am still not feeling 100%.....but it was still a real good week.   With no mother here to take care of me, I don't know how to treat my symptoms, except, well....just to man-up and work through it. It is hard though.   I've had a 24/7 headache, runny nose, cough, and my ears are pounding. I don't know what is wrong, but oh well, stuff happens.  I'll make it through.  Enough of that....

I started teaching English at the airport this past week.  My companion and I hop on the airport bus around 8:50 a.m. on M, W, F and we get to the airport about9:30.  I teach until 11:00 and then take the bus back.  As of right now, transportation is all free, so that is great!  The people I teach English to are great, and because they really want to learn, my desire and motivation to teach them is strong.

We were able to get a lot of work done in regards with the Branch.  Calling people to positions, training them, etc.   We now have all major and crucial callings extended, except in the Sunday School organization.  We are working on that this week.  Also, we are going to start calling people to speak in Sacrament Meeting, instead of having a testimony meeting every Sunday.  I'm surprised, but I didn't really realize that that was happening until this past Sunday. It really amazes me how much planning and preparation goes into making a ward/branch run.   It is hard work!   I mean, I just kind of expect people to know what to do, how to plan lessons, and how to pass around a piece of paper to write their name on it, but I am wrong.  It is definitely not their fault though, that is the thing. They just need to be taught.  With the church being only 20 years old here in Mongolia.....so extremely young, and with Choibalsan being so far away from the "Church Headquarters" in Ulaanbaatar, it is really hard to get training, etc. out here for the members.  They are so dependent on us as missionaries, and my companion is so dependent on me, the American, to get this Branch running properly.  He has a lot on his plate as the Branch President.  Our goal is to not have the Branch dependent on us for everything...teaching the lessons in church, bringing the sacrament bread, setting up the sacrament table, and all the other little things.  When I first got here, I thought it would be like a two week process, but it is looking like a month or more.  There is just so much work.  It doesn't seem like a whole lot when you talk about it and brainstorm ideas, but then when start putting your plan into action, Holy Cow, there's a ton to be done.  But our members are learning and progressing and we can see the fire in their eyes when they receive these callings and assignments.  We can tell they are happy and willing to be the leader we need them to be. This week again, we didn't put up too great of numbers in "Missionary Work," but that is okay.  We are not upset at all, and we feel okay with it.   We are 95% focused on getting the Branch running properly.  Investigators and new members need a solid Branch to come into.  So that is first priority.  

I have such a humbling experience to tell you about regarding Tithing.  Yesterday, our  Branch was "allowed" to start paying Tithes and Fast Offerings again.  There has been quite a long period of time where the members here in Choibalsan were not allowed to pay it. Yesterday was the first time.  After church, as my companion and I counted and recorded all the tithing and Fast Offerings that came in, it was very humbling for me.  There is no way that all the members who brought their tithing in earned that much money in their last pay check.  They just don't have that kind of earnings.  They had been saving all their Tithing money for months, waiting for the time, when they were allowed to pay again.  Without getting into too much detail because these are such sacred funds, but just seeing members who we know are struggling and are so very poor pay Tithing that they have saved up for a long time, is so humbling to me.  This money could have easily spent on food, housing, and clothes, something that a lot of people do not have, but no.  It was the Lord's money, not theirs to spend.  This is truly something I won't forget.  My testimony of paying tithing is so strong because of what I've witnessed here.  

Also, yesterday, I got the MLS (church database program) in English.  I am so happy about that!  But as we got in and maneuvered around the program, we realized that pretty much 90% of the members here in the Branch, have no record of baptism, or other ordinances that we KNOW they have received.  So we contacted President Benson right away and....long story short... he said if there is no record, it all has to be done again.  Crazy!   It is so sad that their is NO record of our members' membership and other ordinances.  So this week's work is to contact all active members and ask for their Baptism record and other ordinances that they have received.  We need the Certificates, President says.  If they don't have them, then we have a few other ways to try and find the records.   But if we cannot find them, most of our Branch will be re-Baptized.   It is sad and we just don't understand how this happened.  More to come on that next week.  Please pray for us, and these members' ordinance records. 

Along with all that, we have three baptisms this week on the 30th!   We are very excited about that!   One of them is Sister Enkhtoya, whose husband is a member and is the 1st counselor in the Branch Presidency.  She is golden, and so ready.  Then my two very good friends, Ganbayar (16) and Ekhbayar (15).  They are really good friends and we have been teaching them since I arrived in Choibalsan.   I am so excited for the two of them  because my first week here was when they had their first lesson, and they didn't seem too interested.  But now, a month or so later, they are ready, and they can't wait.   So we will be adding two new members to our Young Men's organization this week!   Ganbayar is such a stud, a real leader!  He is a strong, buff  kid.   Everyone looks up to him.  He is with us everyday now.  He is our witness when we need to go to a sister's home, he is always at the church when we are doing work.  He just loves being around us.  His mother now wants to learn more about the gospel because she sees the changes in her son and how happy he is and she wants to learn more.  What a good example he is to others and especially to his mother.   He will be a missionary here in the next few years.   I can't wait to see that!   Ekhbayar is a great kid too. He will need a lot of support from the other Young Men, but he will be just fine.  I love both of these kids!  I am so excited to see them enter the waters of Baptism this Friday!   

Also we found two new investigators this week!   I am pumped about that!  These are people who just walked into the church building and ask to learn more.  This is the Lord's hand, I know this to be true. 

I love you all.  Stay Safe.  Say your prayers. 

Elder Harris 

These are the kids who graduated from Seminary! They gave us 200,000+ toogs to take them out to dinner for their "Graduation Party!" That is over $100. It was awesome! We are truly blessed to be out here!

Blurry picture... sorry! This is at one of our Zone Conferences awhile back. I am at the second table from the front on the far right with earphone on and a green tie. President Benson is closest to the camera.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Another Week in the Books

cauh yy? 

Well how is it over there on the mainland of America?  Choibalsan is great!  I love it more and more everyday.  The people are great, the food is rough sometimes, but the work is rolling along.  I wouldn't ask for anything to be different.

Well, I have to be honest, this week was pretty rough.  We had a really hard time meeting with the people who had committed to meet with us.  We came off a 23 lesson week, and this past week we only taught 9 lessons.  It was really frustrating at times.  We are trying so hard to get the Branch situated and organized the way it should be, so missionary work is almost taking a back seat, and I do not like that. We are trying to figure a way to manage both, with both being 100%, not one or the other taking the back seat, but that is stinkin' hard.  I'm leaving this week feeling like I didn't give it my all.  I feel pretty overwhelmed, handling both the Branch and the missionary work.  This past week was the "lets try to get in the swing of things and get everything rolling smooth," week, but it didn't work.  My companion and I finally just sat down in our apartment, at a time when we both felt so overwhelmed, and we talked and then we prayed for heavenly blessings on us as we are trying to do what needs to be done. We immediately started devising a new Branch Action Plan, very detailed, and the list of things to do is a mile long.  We will be extending new callings for all the organization leadership positions, with exceptions to the Primary President and Relief Society President.  We have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, but I know that Lord trusts us with this or else we wouldn't be here, alone, hundreds of miles away from everyone else. 

On a brighter note, our investigator, Tseengoon, WAS BAPTIZED on Friday, May 16th and received the Holy Ghost on the 18th!  It was so great! As I have said, this week was rough, but as we filled up the baptismal font and got ready for the service, it was incredible to feel the Lord take the burdens away and just let us savor the moment.  I am so grateful for that.  For the three or so hours we spent getting everything ready, the font, clothes, food, ect., I felt such peace, and I felt my Savior's love.  I don't really know how to describe it, but I just want to testify that I know the Lord is watching over us here.  It was so obvious in that little way while filling up the baptismal water. After the doors to the font had been closed, Tseengoon, expressed his happiness and joy of being baptized, by splashing around in the font.  I mean, it was probably a little irreverent, but you couldn't help but laugh and smile. The joy was just radiating off his face.  He bore his testimony afterwards to a little congregation of about 10 people, and through his young testimony, you felt the Spirit.  The ordinance of Baptism really changes people.  The look on his face, his countenance, was different than it had ever been.   I also want to tell you about a 17-year old young man who will be baptized on May 30th. His name is Ganbayar.  He is a good, strong, studly kid.  Most of all, he is a leader.  He stands out in the crowd.  We see him everyday, and he asks to accompany us to all the lessons we are teaching to others.  He has expressed great desire to be a missionary in the next few years.  I told President Benson that he has a Leader from Choibalsan coming his way in the near future.  I am really excited for him. 

I want to close by saying that this is what missionary work is all about. You have a really tough week, one where you feel like you are letting the Lord down, then instead of smiting you or telling you that you aren't good enough, the Lord lifts you up on eagle's wings, and gives you the hope to keep pushing along.  That's the way I feel at the end of this week. 


Elder Xappuc 

Tseengoon's baptism!

We had a primary activity on Saturday! Great turn out! Aren' they stinking cute?!

This is a memorial or the Russians here in Choibalsan. They defeated the Japanese here in Mongolia. The man is one of our member's husbands. He is a non-member, and his whole family are members. We are working with him to start taking the lessons... but he is not interested. He's a great guy, he loves us, just not ready. He is also a big wig in the Army here. 

We went out to visit a member of our branch who is now in the Army.  I actually served with him for a short time before he left his mission. The Mongolian Army compound was pretty sweet. I would love to get some Mongolian Army clothes, they are so sweet. 

The view East from the Army compound.  China is out there somewhere, about 20 miles. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eejuun Odor Mend (HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY)

Dear Family,

 I loved talking to you guys so much.  Thank you for hanging in there while we got the technical difficulties solved.   Christmas will be a lot smoother.  I don't have any time, got to get to work.   But I just want to say that the work is great, and all is well.  I forgot to tell you during our talking time that we have 23 LESSONS THIS WEEK!!!   23!!!  TWENTY-THREE!!   We made a goal of 15, and we thought that was a stretch, but we mustered up 23!  I am so proud of us, but I know it is all owed to Heavenly Father and Jesus.  It is not us, it is them.  They do it, we just have the privilege of writing a big "23" in our planners for the week.   I love this work, I love these people.  Six baptisms this month!  One on Friday, and five on May 30th!  How great is that?   I feel so blessed to be responsible for the salvation of souls.  It is a pretty scary thing if you think about it, but through the Lord we are strengthened and we are given the ability to do it.

Also, great news!   The mission was able to find and secure a sponsor for me here in Choibalsan.   That means I will get to stay.  My sponsor is a man who is the head of the Choibalsan airport.   He is not a member, but a great friend to the church here.  I will start teaching English here very soon, which will be great!   Since I have a sponsor now, I most likely will not be transferred out of here for some time....possibly clear up until December or longer.  That's okay with me.  There's a lot of work to be done here.  The Branch and the members need us and the youth need our example.  I love it here.  I have a great companion.  We are busy every minute of every day and are dead tired when we get home every night, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I don't really have much more to say. I am kind of speechless at this point after talking to my great family.  Sorry my testimony in Mongolian was pretty weak over the video....I was just too filled with the emotions of saying goodbye.

I love you all.  I wish I could have said everything I wanted, but that is alright. That is just the sacrifice we all make for the Lord's work.

Elder Xappuc

Our seminary class! The two kids in the back left will be baptized on May 30th. They are Ganbayar and Ekhbayar. Tseengoon, in the gray hoodie, will be baptized on Friday the 16th! The are members. We love these kids!

This is as far west as we go! Isn't it beautiful?

Just flat land, cattle, and a Mongolian sunset. 

Flood in the apartment! We came home on probably the longest day of my life, and our kitchen had flooded... 4 inches deep. We were up until like 11:30 cleaning it, went to bed, then woke up and went fishing at 5am with a member before seminary at 6:30. Then we came home from seminary and it was flooded again...rough life. Not happy campers!

Recently, we've got to fish a little on P-days. I caught 4 fish last P-day... no bigger than 6 inches, but hey! Also, big shout out to Elder Palmer's parents from Henderson. Thanks for the UNLV t-shirt! I love it!

IT was great talking to my family on Mother's Day.

After I talked with you, we decided to get some sheep head! MY FIRST... AND MY LAST SHEEP HEAD!! I really hated it. IT was awesome to be eating it, but I will never do it again. Just tasted like "farm." Well Mongolian Steppe. 

Experiencing Mongolian cuisine... sheep head!

Monday, May 5, 2014

I love Choibalsan

Cauh yy?

This week has been literally the best week of my mission yet.  I love Choibalsan, and I really hope and pray that the Mission finds me a sponsor here so I can stay.  On Wednesday, a lady from the Mission Office (her name is Tuvshin) is flying here to work it all out.   Keeping my fingers crossed!   She's a great lady and I have faith that it will all work out.

So first off, I have never been more tired in my life as I am this week.  It's a good tired, though.   Monday through Thursday, waking up at 5:30 for Seminary really kills you.  It reminds me of my Seminary days when I was late like everyday.....(which I regret).  I love Seminary here, though.  The kids love it, and they love us.  Seriously.  We also receive like 100 American dollars a month from the Church to make breakfast for the kids each morning.  I make pancakes all the time for them, and they love the American food.  They think it is weird, but delicious.  So when Seminary is over we go home, shower and start our studies. We leave the apartment around noon and we are gone all day until about 9 pm.  We have a ton of responsibilities........Seminary, Institute, Mutual, Firesides, ect.  There is something to do everyday with regards to running the Branch, and whatever it is that day usually takes us a few hours, so we are at the church quite a bit everyday.  Honestly, getting this Branch up and running properly is the #1 task at hand, then missionary work.  I feel we are doing a good job at balancing it though, and teaching investigators and trying to re-activate less active members.  But the needs of the Branch require a lot of work. On Sundays, my companion and I teach Sunday School to the investigators and the youth, then we teach the Priesthood lesson to the youth.  There are not enough active adults to fill callings so we have to fill the gaps.   It's hard, but we just smile and keep working. I feel really outta my league with this Ward Clerk calling.  #1, no training. #2, MLS (the church data base software) is in Mongolian, and #3, I can speak Mongolian, but I have difficulty with reading comprehension.  So running the Branch Records and whatnot is a really difficult task.  I feel I'm in over my head, but I know I am receiving Heavenly help though. Sometimes it is just hard to recognize it when you feel like you are getting nowhere.  We know we have been entrusted with a "Stake in Zion" and we are doing our best to keep it going.   Did I tell you that I love my companion?  He is so great!  We have the same work ethic and outlook on how to accomplish things that need to be done.  We share the same desire to work and serve in this Branch.

I love the members here.  I received such a warm welcome and they all help me with the language so much.  I will be teaching a lesson and will stumble on some words and they will just smile and help me.  I love it!  At first, I was embarrassed, but I now am so grateful for it.  That being said, my language is getting a lot better. I mean A LOT.  Grammar is making sense and sentence structures are getting engrained in my head.  I especially love our new members in the ward.  Right before I came, my companion baptized six people.  They all have such solid testimonies and you wouldn't even think they were brand new members when you hear their understanding and see their faith.  Two women, Sister Ayone-Erdene and Sister Gelthinthestheg, are like our "moms away from home."  They are both new members of only a month, yet they feed us every night!   Literally such a blessing.  They have been teaching us how to cook Mongolian food.....well just me, because my comp already knows.  I got some new recipes for us to try when I get home!  I am pumped about that!

But hands down, the youth are the best.  There are like 5 boys and 5 girls and they are golden.  One 14-year old boy has become our best friend.  His name is Erdene Monkh.  He is seriously like 4-1/2 feet tall.  He helps me all the day long with my language and he is with us at literally every appointment and lesson, except when he's at school.  On Tuesday night we were walking him home.  It was a dark night and pretty cold.  Out of nowhere, Erdene Monkh took hold of my hand.  At first I was a little taken back.   I looked at him expecting him to be smiling at me to make a joke or something but he was just looking straight forward at the sidewalk ahead.  That is just Mongolians for you.  They are so loving and they just want to be accepted.  Erdene Monkh is 14, he's in the teachers quorum, and he's had a pretty rough life.  He has no dad, but his mother is really active and is the Primary President.   He sometimes gets picked on by the bigger kids because he is so small.   When we walked him up to his 5th story apartment, honestly I was a little scared.  By far the seediest apartment building I have been in here.  I mean there was a dead dog on the stairs, dim lighting, people drinking and smoking everywhere, and I had to breathe through my mouth because of the smell.  He let go of my hand as we walked down the hall to his apartment.  There was a group of about 5 big guys literally sitting right in front of his door smoking and drinking and going about being "merry."   But Erdene-Monkh walked right through them, unlocked the pad lock that keeps his door locked and we went into his apartment.  I couldn't help but give him a pat on the head for his bravery, and then he told us, "They won't mess with me."  Such a great kid.  I was humbled by his home....one room, no bigger than 12 ft x 12 ft.   No kitchen, just a little room and a toilet.  Him, his mother, and another young man from the ward, Erdene Monkh's friend, live there.  But, then you look at the faith and bravery of this little 14-year old kid, you look at his mother's strong testimony and you realize that they are just fine.  They don't need more. They don't even know what "more" is because they are content with what they have and with their standing in the Lord's Kingdom.  I hope we can all strive to be like this 14-year old boy and his mom.  He now holds our hand whenever we walk him home and its dark.  He just needs to feel loved and protected.  We will be his best friends and his example.

The work is great. About six investigators strong, four being youth that were brought to church by their friends!  I love it. One kid, Erdene Monkh's best friend, a 14-year old boy named Tsengoon, will be baptized on May 16th!  Too early for river baptisms, but in the summer, we do RIVER baptisms!  I am pumped for that!  This Sunday we had 6 investigators that came to church.  Majority were youth.  I love it. We are building Zion, and we are baptizing future missionaries and church leaders here in Mongolia.

Fun Facts:  I ate sheep liver this week. It was a solid meal, I really liked it actually.   We had a 28-year old woman from Atlanta, Georgia in Church yesterday.  She is in the Peace Core and lives here.  We invited her to church and she came!  We taught the investigator class in half-Mongolian and half-English.  It was pretty cool.  I kinda don't like teaching in English anymore!  You want to be too detailed and you just spit out too much information.  Teaching in Mongolian is great because I am forced to teach simple doctrine.  I just thought that was a weird comparison.  I did not think I would walk away from teaching a lesson in English with a negative feeling.  She was great, but she said because of Peace Core rules she can't take our lessons.   I kinda wonder about that, but it's Okay. She thanked us and said she had always been impressed with Mormons.  Hope to see her back again.

I love you all.  Basketball is calling.

Elder Harris

This is a really strong family in our Branch. They made us dinner a few night back. 

The kid in green is one of our investigators, Tsengoon, and his best friend, 
and our BFF, Erdene Monkh!

We put together a clean the church service activity, and we had quite a few people show up! Here is a pic of all the people who came. The Relief Society sisters made food and the men worked. The three boys in the back are all investigators and the woman with the yellow stripes is also. So great!

The yard had like over 3 feet tall weeds covering the whole thing, and after 3 hours it looked great! Still not done though!

Blue skies! This is the city center! They call it the "Golthompt."

In our office at the church. 

Hoop Vision. The nicest court in Choibalsan.