Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Elder Anderson is still sick, although we've been able to do a little more work this week. It looks like we're going to be moving to a different flat in Runcorn soon, so our landlord came by this morning and showed us a couple of other houses. I'll try to keep you updated on any change of address.
I went to an outlying town while on exchange with Elder Tomita earlier in the week. We tried to visit a couple of people but were unable to go inside and teach them. So we went back to the bus stop and talked about where else we could go and what we could do. After talking a little bit, we prayed that we would know where to go and that we would find the people who had been prepared for us (or something to that effect). At the very moment when we said, "Amen," a very friendly African woman walked into the bus stop and immediately struck up a conversation with us. We chatted for quite a while and ended up setting up an appointment to visit her and hopefully teach her about the Restoration. Experiences like this are a good reminder to me of how important it is to seek the guidance of the Spirit in missionary work. I think it's something I can be doing more actively.
We had interviews with President Jacobsen on Friday. It was really good for me to have a chance to talk to him. Before interviews I'd gone through the mission rules, identified the ones I was having trouble keeping, and thought about how I could keep them better. I asked President Jacobsen a lot of questions about the rules and why they are the way they are, and he gave me a lot of helpful answers. The president really cares about us missionaries and wants to help us be better and more successful, so if you're honestly trying to be better and more successful, I think meeting with the mission president is always a strengthening experience.
Dad, I was interested in your comments about the principle of obedience in one of the letters you sent me. I gave a short training presentation about obedience in district meeting a couple of weeks ago and dealt with some of the same issues (probably because I've heard you talk about them before). I talked about war crimes and prison camp guards who were "following orders" and drew a distinction between obeying commandments of men (which can be imperfect and even evil) and obeying commandments of God. The commandment to be obedient, as described in Church manuals and Preach My Gospel, could probably be restated more precisely as the commandment to be obedient to God. But since God calls prophets and mission presidents, their instructions are his commandments too (see D&C 1:38). I've thought a lot about this, needless to say, and I'd like to talk about it more when I have a little more time.
Transfers are next week. I think I'm staying in Runcorn, but we'll see. We had our last district meeting of the six-week transfer period yesterday - two of the missionaries in our district are going home, so it was the last one for both of them. It was a really good district meeting, too - the training presentations were well-prepared and invited the Spirit. By the end of the meeting, I felt really unified with the rest of the district.
At interviews with the President we get to pick up our mail from the mission office. I picked up three Christmas packages (or rather two Christmas packages and one Sinterklaas package), which made me very happy! Elder Tomita got a very large Christmas package, but I think he was the only other one - one of the other missionaries in the district told me something like, "Your parents love you more than our parents love us." : ) I also picked up a letter from "the other President Jacobsen," my erstwhile stake president. It was a really nice note that he'd sent to all the missionaries from the Menlo Park Stake.
[Ed.'s note: the Mission President Jacobsen is the brother of the Stake President Jacobsen who processed Sam's mission application when he was at Stanford.]
In his letter, (Stake) President Jacobsen talked about how missionaries from California going to other parts of the world figuratively weave a thread from their home into the place where they serve, building a web of understanding across the world, and suggested that the missionary program may hence contain the seeds of world peace. An insightful idea, I thought. He also commented on General Conference, specifically on Elder Bednar's talk, and likened it to missionary service. I was really touched to receive the letter - I didn't interact a whole lot with stake leaders or members of other wards during my time at Stanford, and my connection to the Menlo Park Stake had felt a little tenuous. But being listed as one of "their" missionaries makes me feel like they know about and value me anyway.
Elder Anderson has a gigantic map of the United States which is hanging on the wall of the flat. I think he put it there to tease one of his past companions who was not American. Anyway, anyone who has stayed in our flat since (and is American) has signed the map and drawn an arrow pointing to his hometown. I'm going to have to sign the map at some point, but I'm having a little identity crisis about where to sign it. I've narrowed it down to Palo Alto or Jacksonville, and I think Palo Alto will probably win, since I've never actually been to Jacksonville. But I'm still wavering. : )
Thanks for your great letters! I love hearing about life in Jacksonville.
P.S. (Mission) President Jacobsen told me that Elder Anderson is the grandson of Washington journalist Jack Anderson, and that you, Mom and Dad, would know who that is. Do you? I'm interested.
[Ed.'s note: the photo is of Sam with Gavin, an investigator from Barrow]
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday: Sunshine at the beach, with dogs
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Subject: Zoo siab peb caug!
Happy New Year!
We are going to the new year festival today!We have a goal of talking to at least 60 people there, and we are stocking up on pass-along cards and pamphlets. I don't have Hmong clothes yet, but I'll have some for next year. I got to shop at the flea market, and it was really fun. It's crazy buzy during New Year. There was an old man who is a blacksmith recently come over from Thailand, and he was selling all kinds of tools and weapons he had hand-made. He had sickles, kamas, daggers, many sorts and sizes of swords (yeah...kid in a candy store), Shaman tambourine things, as well as many other Shaman equipment. His prices were fair, and he wasn't willing to barter. Very nice man though.
Okay, it looks like Dad was still a little confused about my name. My first name is [Muaj Yeej], not [Yeej]. We go by our first names instead of our last names because Hmong people never call people by their last names. They never say "Brother Lee" or "Mister Vang", because so many people have the same last name. Therefor we go by our Hmong first names, and our name tags have our Hmong first names. Also, we don't choose our clan, we are adopted into the clan of whomever named us. I was named by [Nplaj Txhoov Muas], so I have been adopted into the [Muas] clan. Thus, [Muas] is my surname, but we never use it unless someone specifically asks us what our clan is. It appears some mail got held up at the office because it was addressed to my Hmong name, and the office Elders don't know our Hmong names. It would probably be best to address things to my Mika name.
I got the package! Thank you so much! Thanksgiving was great by the way. The Hmong carve birds a little differently. More or less they just hack off lots of little chunks and pieces, and you have no idea what part of the bird it is. They throw all the bird chunks (including the head) into a bowl and everyone just takes what they want.
If all goes well, Pa will be baptized on Dec 1st or 2nd. We'll have to see how that goes.
Kuv hlub nej nawj!
-Elder Muaj Yeej
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2007 17:07:03 +0000
[Nej puas nyob zoo thiab?]
Things are getting nippy here, and we keep getting a couple nicer days followed by a very blustery day. The average temperatures are still mostly 34 degrees (F) without wind, so it's not bad at all yet. My new coat is working out great! So far it has been completely windproof. Before I got out here I was imagining some huge, fluffy, down-filled coat would probably be what I need, but down isn't really necessary. Mine is very warm, and as I said, windproof and water resistant (which it what really counts). So far I have been toasty without even wearing thermal tops. I wear thermal bottoms, and let me tell you: I'm a believer. As the winter starts for reals I will need to start wearing two layers of thermals and thicker socks. I got new boots last week, and plan to get some windproof gloves today.
Most Hmong in America celebrate Thanksgiving Day because it's right about the time of Hmong New Year (usually the same weekend). Since Hmong New Year is a celebration of gratitude for a good harvest, the two holidays sort of mush into one. (New Year lasts about 3 or 4 days) I might go get some traditional Hmong clothes made for me. I hear there is a nice lady who will make them for only about 30 bucks!We will probably have Thanksgiving dinner at a member's house.
We still don't have a baptismal dat for Pa. Her family missed church last week. It turns out they had visiters from out of town. We are trying to set a date either today or tomorrow. If all goes well, she can be baptized within this transfer! Yay! We have about 4 other people who really want to come to church and be baptized, but they haven't been able to make it to church yet because of transportation issues, but as soon as they can get to church and find a way to go consistently we can set a date. A lot rides on getting them to church tomorrow. We have several other really great people who are excited to be baptized, but their relatives won't let them. This is a problem re run into quite a bit. In the Hmong culture, there is nothing worse than disgracing or embarrassing one's family. Many of our investigators really want to be baptized, but they are afraid their family or extended family will disown them. There is a lot of pressure because some family feel that they would be abandoning their culture if they go to church or be baptized. Even grown men who are married and independent feel they are bound by a responsibility to their kin to preserve their culture. It's hard to know what to do. How do you tell someone that they need to rebel against their family and friends?
Tiffany is impossible to get a hold of. She is in so many extra curricular groups, she's never at home. We also suspect that perhaps sometimes when she is home, her mother tells us that she is not.
Mai Houa really want to go to church and be baptized, but her husband (less-active) keeps saying he'll take her, then something always comes up. This week we are making certain she comes. We are arranging for a member to pick them up, and we are calling to make sure both the driver and the drivees remember.
Did Dad or Doug ever do something called The Ten Days of Truth? It's where you and your companion read the entire Book of Mormon together out loud in ten days. It's a terrific experience! We are a little behind though. Right now we are in Alma 18-ish.
By the way, [Muaj Yeej] is my first name, [Muas] is my clan or last name. I notice one of your letters was addressed Elder Yeej, and I just want to clear that up.
[Kuv hlub nej nawj!]
-Elder Muaj Yeej
John Ennis (our long-time teenage investigator) got baptized last Saturday. It was great, maybe even better than the one the week before. Elder Anderson baptized John (wearing my baptismal pants - he couldn't find his at the last minute, but fortunately mine fit), and Elder Tomita and Bishop Ireland were witnesses. The Young Men's president gave a fantastic talk about the Holy Ghost. Also the four of us missionaries sang "Called to Serve" as a special musical number. About two rows of the chapel were filled by John's (non-LDS) family members, which was really exciting for us. The sister missionaries in Warrington (which is where we had the baptisms, since Runcorn chapel has burned down) also attended with one of their investigators.
On Sunday John got confirmed and ordained a priest, and I got to stand in the circle both times. I forgot to mention last week that I participated in ordaining Josh Burgoyne (the 12-year-old who was baptized last Saturday) a deacon after church last Sunday. This week he passed the sacrament for the first time and was called to be the deacons' quorum president. It's wonderful to see guys this young getting baptized, because they'll be able to serve missions later on and become pillars of the church wherever they end up.
Elder Anderson is still sick and has to stay inside for a few more days, but we've been able to do a little more recently. Last week we had a great visit with a less-active family whom we've been assigned to home teach (a widespread practice in the EMM, suggested, I believe, by a General Authority a few years ago). They are going through a rough time right now because the mother has been diagnosed with a debilitating illness. It was good to see Elder Anderson in action - he's very good at relating to other people by talking to them about their lives and their interests and then doing things like asking for referrals in a non-threatening way. I can see why everybody in the ward seems to love him. I think the less-active family was strengthened by our visit. Before we left, the mother told us that earlier in the day she'd been feeling abandoned by the ward and resenting the people in it, but then right afterwards she got our phone call setting up the home teaching appointment. Plus two different members of the bishopric contacted her later in the day. Events like this show you that God is really guiding the church - when we fulfill the duties of our callings, He helps us to bless others in ways we never could have through our own knowledge.
Another exciting thing this week - one of the people we were teaching in Barrow, a really on-the-ball young guy, moved away to Warrington while we were there. We really didn't want him to fall through the cracks, so we sent a referral to the Mission Office with his phone number (we didn't even know the address of his new house). When we talked to the Warrington sisters on Saturday (at the baptism), they told us that they received the referral, that he's being taught by the senior couple in Warrington, and that he's even been to church a couple of times! I had been worried about him, so it was good to find out he's doing so well.
I've been studying by topic sometimes rather than just reading straight through the Book of Mormon lately, and it's helped me enjoy and benefit from my study a lot more. I've started a list of interesting topics to study sometime in the back of my planner, and when I read, I look up cross-references on anything that interests me or try to find similar scriptures that I remember reading previously. Last week while reading straight though Alma, I found a scripture that talked about "the chains of hell"; I stopped to cross-reference it, and ultimately spent all my Book of Mormon study time that day and all of it the next day finding related scriptures that described exactly what the chains of hell are and directly answered my questions about them. It's a very active way to study the scriptures and get meaningful answers out of them.
Much as I enjoy reading the scriptures, I get hungry for other reading material out here, just for while I'm eating breakfast or taking a tea break or something. I didn't read for pleasure that much at Stanford because I was so busy with other things, but looking back, I did spent an awful lot of time reading this summer, and the habit has accompanied me to the mission field. Anyway, I dug a bunch of old New Era issues out of one of our closets and have been devouring them. The Church magazines are really well done - the New Era does a remarkable job of keeping pace with the times, with a section called "Instant Messages" and some recent articles about the dangers of texting too much. Also, as I read through a stack of them in quick succession, I see a much clearer vision behind them: strong and consistent emphasis on preparing for a mission and getting a personal testimony through a witness of the Spirit. Good stuff.
I'm in Chester today - there's a DVLA office here and I'm hoping to apply for my provisional driving license (excuse me - "licence"). I'm coming back from an exchange with one of our zone leaders, Elder Verman from southern England. The zone leaders' area is Wrexham, in western Wales (our stake encompasses a huge section of Northern Wales - about half the units in the stake are in Wales, although we have no Welsh-language units as far as I know). Wrexham and Runcorn are the two highest-baptizing units in the zone, I think mostly because the wards in both areas are so friendly and active. We're tied at 11 baptisms each for the year, and several members of the Runcorn ward have been encouraging us to baptize more so we can "beat Wrexham." All in a friendly spirit, though. : )
Last night in Wrexham we had a tea appointment with a member of the stake presidency, which was a good thing, because he told Elder Verman about a meeting the zone leaders were supposed to be having with the stake president that evening that Elder Verman had not known about! So he quickly canceled our plans for the evening and we drove out to the meetinghouse where the meeting was taking place. There wasn't time to go to Runcorn and get the other zone leader, so Elder Verman had to take me instead. The meeting went well, though. The stake presidency is concerned about missionary work and wants to help us out, which is great! One of the real benefits of serving in an area where the Church is so strong.
I'm enjoying the Messiah recordings I got from Dad! And I am looking forward to putting on the Christmas music. The British don't celebrate Thanksgiving, of course (Christmas decorations are already up in most of the shops), but I'm still waiting until Thursday before I play it.
The other Runcorn elders had two baptisms this week: a single mother named Nikki and her deacon(?)-aged son Josh. They used to live in Denmark and had all the missionary discussions there, but moved away before they could get baptized. Then Elder Anderson and Elder Empey met them while they were tracting and re-taught them. The ward loves them, and they will be solid members. This is the first convert baptism I've seen here in England, so it was kind of exciting. Although it must have been even more exciting for Elder Anderson and Elder Empey, who actually found Nikki and Josh and saw them go through the entire teaching process.
The other Runcorn elders have one other really promising investigator, a teenager named John who is a very good friend of Naomi Cohen, the ward mission leader's daughter. He has been taught, at the Cohens' home for over a year, and has been very receptive but hesitant to commit to baptism too quickly. On Sunday morning, the day after Nikki and Josh were baptized, the Cohens told us that John had something to tell us elders and pulled the four of us into a classroom so he could talk to us. He said, "You know how youse* have been teaching me to try and convert me to be baptized? Well, I don't want you to do that any more." Then, after a long pause, "Because I'm going to get baptized." We were all very relieved : ). His baptism is scheduled for this coming Saturday, and Elder Anderson will be performing it. I've gotten to know John a little bit and helped teach him once while on exchange, so this is especially exciting for me. I'm very blessed to be in Runcorn while all these great things are happening.
*Colloquial British for second-person plural; "y'all," roughly. It's very commonly used, both in Runcorn and Barrow.
I gave a talk on prayer last Sunday. It went OK - I was a little nervous and I ran a little long, but it turned out fine because there were only two speakers, me and the bishop's father (he's also a former member of the Stake Presidency, I believe - people refer to him as "President Ireland") plus a special recitation and two minutes' silence for Remembrance Day. Brother Ireland was very kind to me and told me after the meeting that my talk was "excellent." He also complimented me on my singing too, saying I sang with volume ("most Americans don't") and sharing D&C 25:12 with me. He told me that he'd spent most of his life in tiny branches of the Church, singing loudly to try and keep everyone united. I think he should meet Isaac. : )
I've been on exchange a couple of times this week, which has been good since Elder Anderson is still contagious, if not as badly incapacitated as before, and is still under quarantine. I went with Elder Atwood to Moreton and Elder Frogley (nephew of President Chris Frogley of the Nauvoo pageant) to Birkenhead, both cities just across the Mersey River from Liverpool. It felt really good to go back to working full-time for those couple of days - in Moreton in particular, I spent an hour street contacting and ended up talking to a guy who really needed help and seemed receptive. Hopefully the Moreton elders will get to teach him. I'm actually writing from Liverpool today (and the Liverpool library has draconian Internet time limits for guests so this letter may be a little short), because I'm on the way back from my exchange in Birkenhead. Elder Frogley (who went through the MTC with me) was on the BYU track team before he came out, and when we went running this morning I was puffing pretty hard and struggling to keep within sight of him : ).
Last preparation day we had a zone activity with at least a dozen other missionaries attending. We went ice skating at a rink over in Wales (where street signs and everything are in both Welsh and English - kind of cool). It turns out that Elder Empey is quite a talented ice skater, having figure skated for 8 years while growing up (a fact he seems to have attempted to keep hidden), and Elder Lapinsuo from Finland and Elder Egervari from Hungary were also pulling stunts on the ice. Poor Elder Anderson had never ice skated before and was stumbling around a lot, much to the delight of the elders whom he puts to shame on the football field.
I love you! I hope school isn't sapping the life and the energy out of everyone completely. Hang in there!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Sent: Saturday, November 10, 2007 11:03 AM
Nyob zoo nej sawvdaws!
Life is great here, the weather is getting cold, but it's not too bad yet. We’ve had a few flurries, but nothing has really stuck yet. I hear a lot of times in the winter it will be about 15-25 degrees F, but with the wind chill it can reach 30 or even 40 below (F).
I got my name tags with my Hmong name on them this week! Pretty nifty.
We are really excited because tonight we are going to set a baptismal date with Pa! We showed her the Restoration movie, and pointed out the part at the end where Joseph Smith Senior gets baptized. I had a feeling that if she saw a baptism she wouldn't be as scared of it because it would no longer be "unknown". Turns out I was right, and she doesn't appear scared anymore. We asked her mom for permission and she said as long as Pa wants to, it's fine. I'll let you know if we are able to get a date. By the way, Pa is 9 years old (I realized I never told you).
Have I told you about Tiffany? We were on our way to a stop-by visit with Yama (about 17-18 years old) and her siblings whom are all less active members except [Siab] (M, age 9), who has not yet been baptized. We found Yama sitting on her front steps with one of her friends (Tiffany). It turns out Yama had given her a BoM a while ago, but she had only read about 3 pages from it because she didn't really know what it was. Tiffany is very religious, and practices Old Culture and Buddhism. She is very interested in Christianity and has studied a lot about it on her own. She had a ton of questions about our religion particularly because she noticed that Yama was different that most of her friends, particularly with swearing and caffeine. Yama had never explained why her religion advises against coffee and vulgarity, but had simply said "That's just what we believe." Tiffany had asked Yama many questions about our church, and Yama tried to answer but Tiffany still didn't really understand. She also said that she really wanted to come to our church and check it out, but Yama would never take her because Yama always had work on Sunday and never went to church anymore. Really long story a little bit shorter, we were able to answer all the questions she could think of at the time, and commit her to read form the BoM and to come to church, even if Yama couldn't go. Tiffany is what we call a "Fireball Investigator" she is fellowshipping her less active friend and devouring any spiritual knowledge she can reach. She likes the philosophies of Buddhism and Confucius, but she doesn't actually believe in most of their doctrines. She believes in God, and everything we are teaching her. The only snag is that her mom, who used to be Christian, has been pressured by HER mother to practice Old Culture again, and Tiffany's mom doesn't really want her to go to church. We need to bring her mom back unto Christ.
Mai Houa is still doing great, and this time we're going to make sure she gets to church, whether Ze goes or not.
I love you all!
-Elder Muaj Yeej
Elder Anderson's been pretty sick this week, so he's had to stay inside and we haven't been able to do much missionary work :(. At first I thought it would be nice to get a little bit of a break, but after I spent time inside not doing much it was harder to go out and work when I did get the chance, and I had a harder time feeling good about myself as a missionary. Now I can see why hard work is so important and so good for you, and I'm grateful that Elder Tomita and I were able to work with so few interruptions in Barrow. Fortunately Elder Anderson has organized a lot of exchanges with the other Runcorn elders so we've all taken turns staying inside with him, and he seems to be on the mend now.
Runcorn seems to be one of the most fruitful areas in the mission right now, in large part because of the amazing ward and their strong commitment to missionary work. Elder Anderson was talking about some of our investigators who aren't really progressing towards baptism and telling me that it would be tough for us to stop teaching them because the ward loves them so much. I got to attend PEC, Ward Council, and a meeting of the "Proclaim the Gospel" committee this week, and I was really impressed by how well the meetings were run, how on-the-ball the members were, and how many great things are being accomplished. It was exciting to see how a really united ward can be so powerful.
Incidentally, the ward has been feeding us really well. This week each of our two companionships has tea appointments six times. I also hear that Runcorn is the place to be in the mission at Christmastime, so I should be in luck next month.
Yesterday was Zone Conference. President Jacobsen gave us some great training that inspired me to work harder. Our mission is currently not putting out very high numbers (compared to other missions in the area) and we're going to have the chance to exercise a lot of faith, set some challenging goals, and work very hard in the coming weeks.
At Zone Conference I got to meet a bunch of missionaries I hadn't known before (since last transfer I was at the other end of the mission). I talked for a while to one of the brand-new missionaries who just came out two weeks ago. He was studying chemical engineering at the U of U last year, so we talked a bit about college math classes, etc. He also told me that Elder Mistico won't be coming out as soon as I'd thought because he ended up going to the Provo MTC so he could get some deeper language instruction. So I'll have to wait a little bit longer to meet him.
Last Friday Elder Anderson and I went to a district leaders' council in another area. While he was in the meeting, I went out tracting with the other two district leaders' companions, Elder Kyambadde from Uganda and Elder Nagy (who arrived in the mission at the same time I did) from Hungary. Elder Kyambadde told us that in Uganda missionaries never tract or street contact because they spend all their time teaching member referrals. Lucky! :) I decided that I'm glad to be here, though, because tracting and street contacting are good growing experiences for me to have, even if they're not always very comfortable. The three of us did some good tracting. Poor Elder Nagy is still feeling shaky with English (although he seems a lot better at it than when I met him right after he got to England), and didn't talk at all at the first few doors we knocked on. But then, at the last door we knocked on, we met a talkative lady who mentioned that it was confusing that there are so many churches out there, and Elder Nagy jumped in and used that comment as an opportunity to teach the entire first lesson to her, right there while we were standing outside the door. He did a really great job too. It makes contacting people much easier to have a companion to back you up.
Sunday is Remembrance Day, and to commemorate it people all over the place are wearing pins in their lapels with little red paper poppies. I need to get one of them. In church on Sunday, we're having a minute of silence at 11 AM. Incidentally, I'm also giving a talk in sacrament meeting, about prayer.
This past Sunday Elder Kerr (an Area Authority Seventy) and Sister Kerr came to the Runcorn Ward. Elder Kerr was a very dynamic guy, and he not only bore his testimony in sacrament meeting but spoke to us in Priesthood and PEC. Hearing him talk about missionary work was really exciting and wonderful; I could tell that he really believed that (as President Hinckley said a few years ago) there are millions of people in the British Isles with an innate desire to worship the living God, and that through good member missionary work, we in Runcorn would be able to start finding and baptizing those people. A good boost for us full-time elders. Sister Kerr also came up to me , thanked me for my testimony (which I'd borne in sacrament meeting), and told me about how she'd first met the missionaries in a bus stop somewhere; they bore testimony to her, and even though she hadn't had any interest in the Church before and wouldn't have let missionaries into her home, she felt the Spirit and ultimately was baptized. She said that I should always bear mine when I had an opportunity.
Thanks for all your wonderful letters!
My address here is
4 Heather Close
Paddock Moor, Runcorn
Cheshire WA7 3HW