Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Greetings from UB

Dear Family,

Well this week was pretty hectic to say the least. Too much to write, so I will bullet point it out!   Emailing home is different here than in Choibalsan.  I'm used to sitting in my church office and writing to you.  Today, I'm sitting here in a crowded internet cafe with six other elders, almost in tears reading about you guys doing the temple work for Purew Emee's family this past weekend.  That's so great that you got so much done.  I know she is grateful and so am I.  We just finished playing basketball at the Bayanzurkh building with a bunch of other missionaries, RMs, and members.  It was fun!  Sorry, I have no pictures of my new area yet, just a goofy one of me and the three elders I live with in our apartment.  The other pictures I'm sending are from Choibalsan and when I went on exchange.  Here goes.....

  • My new companion is a Mongolian, Elder Bilgoon.  He has not been to the MTC yet, he will report in March.  He IS a full-time missionary though, not just a mini-missionary.  He is really cool.  I like him a lot already.  Pray for me that I can be the kind of Trainer that he needs.  It is kind of hard training a new elder who has not had that MTC experience to get him acclimated to the rigors of missionary life.  Interestingly, he was called the morning we became companions and asked if he wanted to come out and start his mission.  He said yes!  Then he went and was set-apart by President Benson later that day and here we are!  Isn't it great the way things work in Mongolia!  This is all part of Hastening the Work!
  • The Sansar Branch is great!  I love it!   It is so big from where I came from!  There were over 100 people in Sacrament Meeting this past week!  Like I told you, this area is all buildings and high rise apartments!  Since I just flew in last Wednesday, I have only been able to actually work in the area for about a day, so I will have more to tell you next week.
  • Our investigators are great!   A family was passed along to us from the previous elders.  They've already received the first lessons from them. They are a great family and they speak English.  They actually have a daughter who is a member and is a student at BYU-Hawaii.  The mother received some of the lessons in Hawaii and is super amazingly nice and ready, as well as a younger daughter, who is 16.  The 16-year old daughter is so ready and the father is great too!  Please pray for them as a family!  Also, as far as investigators go, yesterday in church we received four referrals and we were able to make appointments with all of them for this week!  I am super pumped about that!
  • Elder Higgs and I, the other Zone Leader, went to a city called Bagannuur about 2 hours from UB on Friday and Saturday and did "exchanges" with the Elders there.  It was really good and I felt really good about my exchange.  I felt like I was able to help this elder a lot.  I love that feeling!  On the bus on the way there, we got stuck next to this gross drunkard who snuck on the bus.  It was annoying for the first 20 minutes or so, then Elder Higgs and I decided to talk to him.  He was interested in us because we were American.  He requested we sing him some American songs.  So we sang him Hotel California, something from Eminem, and some other songs that he requested.  It was funny.  We talked to him the whole way and taught him all about the Word of Wisdom. At the end after he finished his bottle of Vodka, he turned to us and told us he was Chingis Khaan, and that we had to kiss him.  Of course, we refused.  By that time, he decided it was time for him to get off the bus, which was a good decision!  It was funny.  Mom, don't worry.  I am alive and safe here in Mongolia!
Sorry so short.  More to come next week.


Elder Harris

Me on top of the tallest building in Choibalsan.  

The three American Elders in our apartment with my companion, Elder Bilgoon.

 On my exchange with Elder Memmott.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Transferred to Ulaanbaatar, the Sansar Branch

Dear Family,

Well I know that you are all waiting to know if I've been transferred or not, so here it is......Elder Harris has been transferred to the city (UB)!   I am going a Branch called Sansar (Translation: Outer space).  They meet at the main church building, the Bayanzurkh building.  In this new area, there are no Ger Districts at all, just large high rises and apartment buildings.  I am now a Zone Leader for the East Zone.  My Zone Leader companion is Elder Higgs, who just finished being AP (Assistant to the President) for about 6 months.  My companion and I are living in the nicest apartment in the city by far, with Elder Higgs and his companion, Elder Olivas.  Should be a great time!   Also, I will be a trainer  this transfer.  My new trainee is Elder Bilguun, but he doesn't even report to the MTC until March, so this is kind of an out-of-the-ordinary thing.  I have actually met him before, and he seems really cool.  He raps, so what more could you want, haha.   If you look up on Youtube "khuchtei bai" a music video should come up.  My companion is the one rapping about half way in.

This past week we did some fast missionary work and got a baptism!  Well not exactly, but pretty much.  A member husband and wife's little daughter, Mandugai, turned 8 this week and so we got her baptized!  The parents didn't really know how to teach the lessons, or know what she needed to know for the interview, so we came over every day this past week and got her ready for the interview.   The awesome thing was she has pretty much known everything from Primary and just from what her mom and dad had already taught her, so it was a piece of cake, literally.  Her birthday was this past week and so we ate some great cake.  Friday she was baptized and ЭЭЖ МИНь ЭЭ was it cold!   I literally couldn't get in the water and neither could she!  So I just "saddled up," walked over to her side, picked her up, set her in the water, hurried and got her quiet, dunked her, picked her back up out of the water, sat her on the steps, then ran over to my side and got out. In and out time:  30 seconds, haha!  She bore a rock solid testimony too!  The mother is very active and a great woman, the father needs a lot of support.  He left to the countryside for work on Wednesday, so we wanted to wait until he got back, but the family insisted on Friday and told us they didn't want to wait.   It was sad he was not there, but I see him being active and worthy here shortly for his daughter's sake.

Yesterday's Sacrament meeting was hard for me.  I hadn't felt sad yet about leaving Choibalsan, and I thought it would not be that hard, but man it hit at church.  We had a returned missionary homecoming talk that only ended up lasting about 5 minutes, so with nothing else really  planned, I opened it up for a impromptu Testimony meeting.  Many people got up and thanked the returning missionary for her service, but soon the spotlight that I had hoped would stay on the RM through people's testimony, soon fell on me, and my service to the Branch.  I felt super bad about that.  It quickly turned into what Bishop Udall taught the Primary not to do when I was about 8 years old, a "Thank-a-Mony" meeting, with everyone bearing their testimony about me.  I could tell they all wanted to hear from me before the meeting closed, which I was avoiding, because I didn't want to cry.... haha.  Anyways, I did get up and I shared a few stories, one was about how I lost my voice in the MTC and how I couldn't speak Mongolian to save my life for quite a long time.   But now, I finally have got it, and through the Spirit I can understand them and they can understand me.  I told some good jokes too, and they all laughed :)  In closing I shared a scripture, D&C 90:11, "For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ." I pled with them to read the scriptures and apply what they read every day. I told them what an AMAZING blessing it is to have the Holy Scriptures in the Mongolian language, and they need be grateful for it everyday.  Then, just to ice the cake, the piano player chose Hymn #40, "God be with you 'til we meet again," for the closing song.  Man when we got to the chorus in the first verse, I was done.... tears rolled down all over my suit and tie. I looked up at the congregation, just to see people smiling at me, then I refused to look up again.  During the closing prayer, Sister Tsevelmaa came up to the stand and tapped my on the shoulder, and gave me toilet paper.  I laughed a little bit... I thought it was kinda funny.

I will never forget My Choibalsan.  Man, I love this place and I love the people.  I will be forever grateful for the things I learned here and to the people who taught me these things, and I will try to implement these lessons for the rest of my life.  I will see these people again, I know it.   My Patriarchal Blessings mentions this (speaking about the people I will meet and teach the gospel to on mission):  "....They will become leaders and teachers within their own country and among their own people......They will become your eternal friends and companions." I know this is true.   One of my favorite songs I have listened to in the Mission is entitled, "The Only Prayer that Matters." It describes the feelings that I have for these people:  "Losing myself as I plead with the Father, they find their way back home.  Begging with all of my heart for their lives, like I've never had my own."

I am also thankful for my companion. I have been super blessed to be with him this past 2.5 months.  He has been a great friend to me, a huge support in my calling, and has taught me so much.  It is funny to look back and remember that President told me that I have been called for my companion, to strengthen him and encourage him, because I feel like HE has been the one teaching ME.  I will miss him.

I am nervous for this new calling as a Trainer. Please pray for me.  I am not worried about my trainee, but myself.  I feel a whole lot of weight on my shoulder for this new Elder and his success.  I pray I can fulfill the Lord's will and do my best to help him.  Pray that I will not talk too much English at my new house with the other American elders, and therefore isolating my new companion. That is a huge worry of mine.

I love you guys. I am off to OUTER SPACE and a new adventure! 

Elder Harris

Togooch Emee.  I love this Grandma!   She is a small body of 100% FAITH! 

Sister Gereltsetseg and her family. This is the baby I blessed! 

Mandugai's baptism

 Mandugai's mother

My companion and I with Mandugai

Sister Bolor Erdene and Sister Gereltsetseg 

This is Elder Higgs and he will be my new companion in UB come Wednesday.  This picture was taken a few months back when he and his comp came out to Choibalsan.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Families Can be Together Forever

Dear Family,

Well this week there is not a huge amount to tell you about. My companion has been sick and that kept us in the house most of the week.

However, this week Namulun, that 9-year old investigator from this past summer whose mother and father are both returned missionaries, was baptized!   When the sisters came to Choibalsan, we passed her onto them, so they finished her off on the last lessons, and they've just been working really hard with the family.  She could have been baptized a long time ago, but we all decided it was best to wait until the Father's work was finished so this could be a family strengthening centered baptism, leading the father and mother back into full activity.  Well, the past 3 weeks or so the whole family has been here at church, so that has been great.  You can really see that they know the gospel that they once preached as missionaries is so important to their lives.  Just looking at them in Sacrament Meeting, at the baptism, and when they had their new baby boy blessed a few weeks ago, you can see how much they love that little girl and baby boy, and want nothing more than to raise them in the church. Still, their free agency is getting in the way, but I have faith that someday, they will all be sealed together. Families can be together forever guys!  How great is that!

In Sacrament Meeting yesterday, I blessed my first baby, Nimdawaa Azjargal, the daughter of Sister Gereltsetseg (Light Flower). It was a super neat experience, holding this new baby in my arms, rocking her with my companion and 1st counselor, and giving her a name....all in Mongolian!  At one point, I got pretty choked up.  I don't know why, but I thought about it later and just thought about how close this little girl is to her Heavenly Father, and not long ago, she was right up there with Him. Also, I thought about the future family that I will have, and how precious that will be to me, to bless my son or daughter. I was touched by the Spirit for those few minutes. Anyways, it was really cool.

Well, transfers happen this week.  I don't know what is going to happen, and I am trying to NOT focus on it.  The week before transfers is always rough.  So much anticipation!  Again, I have a feeling that I am going, and my companion will replace me as  Branch President, but who knows. I just want to serve where the Lord wants me!

Until next week, I love you guys!

Elder Harris

Namulun, and her family!

Pictures from the baptism. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One by One

Dear Family,

Well I was super happy to hear that the Hansen family has invited you guys over for Tsagaan Sar in February! Enjoy the buuz! That should be a great time! Make sure to wear your дээл (deelth) and bring your best хөөрөг (khuurug)...a little bottle that you exchange, open up, and sniff)! 

Well, this week was pretty good! My companion and I taught 11 less active members, but only two investigators.  New Year's definitely happened here (I write that as if it didn't happen in the rest of the world), and it was so great to be a part of such a big holiday with the great Mongolian people I have come to love.  So New Year's here is the Christmas equivalence.  It begins on New Year's Eve, with family and friends coming over to your home to celebrate, then people come and go for about two more days. Everyone here prepares tons of Capital Salad (Potato Salad), and tons of other salads, and lays them all across a table, along with a large cake, fruit, and candy. Then you just grub down as much as you want.  Then you are free to go. They are just pleased to have you over and feed you!  They are such great people!  Christmas trees here are for New Year's, and the cool thing is, people that come to your home put money on your tree as kind of a donation to help reimburse them for the money they spent over the holidays. We met with some great people and ate a lot of cake....success in my book! 

Something that really hit me this week was a quote from the Saratov movie (Missionaries getting kidnapped in Russia...).   In the movie, one of the Elders had just hit his one year mark and is burning his shirt on top of an old Soviet-style building, just like they have in Choibalsan.  The movie eludes to, and so does the Elder, that they have little success and most missions teach more lessons in a week than they do in a month, which is very comparable to Mongolia.  But then the Elder says something along the lines of, "Don't you just love that feeling? You come home after a long day, tired as can be, but knowing that you did just a little bit of good in the world?"  For me it has been really easy when I get deep down in the ruts of Missionary work to think that I am not pleasing the Lord and my labors are not enough. This has been a battle I have had for most my mission, just trying to feel like I am in line with the Lord's will during those times with small amounts of lessons taught or little to none progressing investigators. Well there has also been a theme that has stuck out to me in the Book of Mormon, and some of the Brethren have given talks about it in conference recently, and that is, "One by One."  Jesus Christ ministered and continues that ministry "one by one."  When he healed the lepers, he didn't say a prayer that cured them all, but he healed them, individually, "one by one."  When he blessed the Nephite children, he called them forth and blessed them, individually, "one by one."  When He knelt before an olive tree, great drops of blood fell from every pore of His perfect body, suffering for us, individually, "one by one."  His gospel reaches out to the individual by way of the Spirit, in a personal way that does not touch the masses or multitudes.  When they say in the scriptures that the Spirit was upon them, or that it fell upon the multitude, yes of course that is true, but it was not like a blanket that was draped over them. It hit every person individually in their heart, "one by one," and converted them to His gospel, individually, "one by one."  Just a side note, the phrase "one by one" is only mentioned in the Book of Mormon six times, but in the stories that are of most importance, according to Elder Bednar, and that will fill the individual "one by one," with knowledge and the Spirit of confirmation of truth.

As missionaries, we "Teach People, not Lessons."  Our ministry is one that can only be done to the individual, reaching out "one by one."  This week, on New Year's, Sister Bolor Erdene was in the hospital, as she has been lately for her kidney and other illnesses that she has.  She decided not to go to her home, where the party was, but just to say and read the scriptures and spend New Year's with the older woman who shared her hospital room with her.  We stopped by, gave her some great chocolate, and a large bottle of juice, and wished her a Happy New Year.  She never said much, but when we sat down, she wept.  We didn't say much to her as we knew that things are hard with her relationship with her sister.  But before we left, I prayed for her and asked for the greatest blessings of the Lord to come upon her and her son this coming year.  As we left, she wept again.  I truly felt that night that we did just a little bit of good in the world, and it felt great.  On New Year's Day, we went over to Purew Emee's house and played a Mongolian card game with her for about 30 minutes, and man she was just tickled pink.  That felt so good just to brighten her day up, and I know it is something she won't forget.  The Zone Leaders came from the city to do a 5-day exchange with us starting last Saturday.  Saturday night, Elder Hill and I just went around visiting Grandmas in the branch, and making sure they were warm and had ways to get to church the following day. We walked.....a lot. It was super cold, and we taught not a single lesson that day, but when I came home, I thought to myself with a smile of my face, "Harris, that was a good day." Right now we have no investigators.  Recently we have been burned and burned and burned.  But I have learned that getting too caught up in the numbers is just a waste of time and causes stress. I am reminded of the hymn:

"Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed."

Well, that is my soap box for the week!  Please know that I am happy, everything is good.

Love you all,

Elder Harris