Monday, October 25, 2010

Typhoons, etc. (New Pictures)

Here are some new Pictures! Love and Hugs to you ALL!!!!! I am learning that washing machines are not ESSENTIAL, nor decorative BOWLS to eat out of ;)!!

WE ARE SAFE and BACK to WORK ;)!!!!!

So, I've experience my first Typhoon ever. President Carlos is a very vigilant man, and was aware of where we were and where the storm was every second of the weekend. He had the zone leaders come get Sister De Fiesta and I and bring us to Cauayan--closer to the mission home. We stayed with two other sisters in their cement boarding house type apartment. President Carlos had our entire mission on lockdown. We were not to leave our apartments until he gave us word. It was amazing that I did not feel threatened in any way by the storm. I honestly felt the protection of God, and honestly didn't realize how serious the storm was until we left the apartment. We lost our electricity of course, and wrote letters, ate dinner, bathed, prayed, and talked by candlelight. The rain was torrential and the palm trees were basically bent to the ground from the wind. Our closed doors rattled in the locks and rain water dripped in from the ceiling, but that was all really. We didn't experience a quarter of what most of the people here did.

When we left the apartment, we saw what really had transpired. Large trees were uprooted, some were just left completely leafeless, people's cauayan homes were floored, roofs were blown off, some aluminum roofs were tangled around powerlines, an entire Shell gas station had collapsed. But the minute I woke up, I heard people sweeping their floors with their walis-ting-tings and hammering the bends out of their roofs. They are such a resiliant people. When we got to our home in Naguilian, we saw that our front fence had been blown over, one window had broken, and our mattresses were a little wet, but besides that, we were blessed to have everything else remain in good condition. I feel like our home is very safe. (I will try to send you a picture soon.) We have an elevated house, all made of pure cement and brick, the windows are barred, and we have about five locks on every door (even the door to our room). We have a cell phone also. As sisters, we are very well taken care of.

We went right out the day we got back to our area, to help members and others clean. Mostly everyone refused our help (they are shy), but we were persistent and managed to walis-ting-ting some leaves from two people's entry ways and street. We also went and cleaned all of the water from our little-house-on-the-praire meeting house. :) The counselor in the branch presidency was there, and he cut open a young Buko (coconut) for us to drink from and eat. It was unlike any coconut I have ever tasted. The milk inside was like water, and the flesh was jelly-like--so good.

We have been without electricity and water since the storm, and we hear that that will be the case in Naguilian until December. Adventures! (That's why I couldn't email you last week. We went out to the emailing cafe, but there is no electricity in the whole city. We are in Cauayan right now, thats how I am able to email you now.) President has told us not to stay out past 6pm every night, because thats when it gets dark. And it gives us just enough daylight to find our candles in our house and light them before it is completely dark. We also dont have a refrigerator to use obviously, without the electricity, so finding food to eat has been somewhat difficult--veggies and meat spoil fast and we've resorted to eating lots of canned food and ketchup and fruit. Sister De Fiesta treat ourselves to an occasional pan de coco (a type of sweet bread here sooooooo gooooooooooooooooooooood) and a nightly watermelon feast. Watermelon is our "happy food," says Sister De Fiesta.

We've had some great teaching experiences. Sister De Fiesta and I are working hard to FIND people to teach. Most people will let us come into their homes and share a message about the gospel, because they are so nice. But its hard to get them to see the importance of reading a pamphlet for themselves or praying about our message for themselves or coming to church. We are teaching somewhere around 11 investigators--none yet progressing. We do have two progressing investigators--Sister Maryann and Brother Jerry. (Everyone calls everyone brother and sister here and in my first few days it was so hard for me to tell who was a member and who wasnt.) They are waiting on their marriage papers to come through before they can be baptized--it will take about 10 days. We are excited for them; they are really cute and every time we see them, they seem happier and happier.

We are also teaching a woman named Shela. Her husband is a less active member of the church, but she came to church our first Sunday here with her two children. We stopped by her house the next week to help her with laundry (She had SO much and is pregnant and was squatting to wash her clothes by hand...what a diligent, hardworking mother. Something I hope to be one day, though hopefully not having to squat.). We've decided as a companionship to serve our members and investigators more. We've taught her the message of the restoration and the word of wisdom, and she came to church again this past Sunday. We pray hard for her to know for herself that the church is true. Her baptismal date is set for November 17th.

I of course have times where I doubt myself and feeling the Spirit, but God never ceases to encourage me every day. It's been so neat to see how He does it. Like, one time we were proselyting down Querino, and when we past a house, I saw a mother, a child, and a grandmother standing outside of their home. I thought to myself in the split second we passed, "I could see us teaching them." And we kept walking. Then Sister De Fiesta stopped, turned around, and walked right to those three women. We taught them the restoration. Another time I was selecting a hymn to sing for a family and I thought, "Love at Home? Nooo..." And I asked the member with us what hymn they would like to sing. He said, "274." Which is Love at Home. Just yesterday we were sitting with a part-member family and a man I had just met was leaving. He was older and was mounting his bicycle and said, "Sister Fort, how is your patience?" And I looked at him, puzzled kind of and said, "Ok lang.." and he said, "Love the Filipino people, and hopefully we will love you too." Huh. Alma 32:23 speaks truth. God listens to my prayers. And answers them so readiliy sometimes (through people) that it surprises me.

Mahirap ang buhay dito sa Naguilian, pero I am learning to rely on my God and to be patient with myself. I take so much comfort from Alma 32--line upon line. Little by little I will become the missionary God sees in me.

I have about 5 minutes, so I'll make this fast!
Any bug repellant would be lovely--lice, ant, spider, etc. I am getting tan. I can have tailored dresses made real cheap here--the clothes I brought are SO HOT. I need garments, but can probably order them through the mission office here. ARMENIA!?!?!?!?!?!?!!? I cannot believe it!!!!!! Victoria is going to be WONDERFUL. I love herrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr so much. Tell her that. I wrote her last week but my letters are coming by snail mail now. Alainna wrote me--I enjoyed her letter very much. I love HER!! Also Jillian sent me some cool new gum flavors. Tell her I love her. I will write them as soon as I can. Tell Peter I pray for him, every night.

I love you so so much. I hope I didn't forget to answer any questions. I'm sure I did, but anyway. Know that I am safe and being smart and I'm happy and I appreciate and love you so much. I need your prayers always.

WITH SO MUCH LOVE forever and ever.
Sister Fort

Monday, October 11, 2010

I HAVE ARRIVED!!!!!! Soooo Much to SAY!

Well, I am here.

There is so much to say. We got here safely after one million hours in the air and in airports and on bus rides. After our 14 hour plane ride overseas, we stopped in Taiwan, and our terminal was behind a Hello Kitty store--I thought of Michelle and Main Place Mall. I ate the best won ton soup I have ever had in my life in the Taiwan airport, with rice and mango juice. When we arrived in the Philippines finally, we stopped at MTC Asia to rest. MTC Asia sounds pretty huge right? It's basically 1/8 the size of the Provo MTC. The people were lovely and fed us noodles with chicken, bread, and mga sanging (bananas). The bananas here are small and taste like a cross between a sweet potato and a banana--they are sweet. They also let Sister Pence and I take a shower and put our feet up for two hours (my feet did get swollen. They are still swollen, but are gradually going down. Any chance I get I try to elevate them) We took a ten hour busride from Manila to Cauayan, and the curtains were yellow and reminded me of a flapper dress. I made my first contact on the bus with a 19 year old Filipino girl. Sister Lela and I gave her a Book of Mormon and I testified about how the Book of Mormon has blessed my life.

When we arrived in Cauayan, President and Sister Carlos were there waiting at the stop to greet us. Sister Carlos knew my face and name and homestate and it surprised me. Apparently they had read up on me a little. Sister Carlos baked us bread and sweet rolls and President Carlos made us breakfast rice. They orientated us and I had my first interview with president. He said he prayed and fasted and prayed about who my new companion should be. He said the companion he chose for me is the most diligent in the mission, and in his opinion, the best sister missionary in the mission--truly a testimony to me of how much my God loves me. Her name is Sister De Fiesta. We are opening a new area called Naguilian. It's about 30 minutes from the mission home. We ride tricycles and buses to get places. But mostly we stay in our area and walk. We are trying to strengthen the priesthood in our area--there are mostly just women who come to church, around 30 that show up every Sunday. We've met with and talked to the branch president. He says he will make me teach Sunday school every Sunday so my Tagalog will get better--I'm not sure if he was joking or not...

They burn leaves and garbage here at night and it the smell is like insense--I have a feeling I'm going to miss that smell when I leave. I bathe with a ladel and bucket and sleep with only sheets and a fan blasting from my feet. They call me Sister Port, because they can't pronounce F's. I told Sister DF that some things that make me happy are: flowers, chocolate, and talks with my momma. She said she cant give me talk with my momma, but she picks flowers for me basically every day. We eat rice, noodles, and hot chocolate for breakfast. We drink boiled water, and I am basically dripping in sweat all day long. We only have running water between 4pm and 6am. The living conditions are nothing I have ever experienced, but I am getting used to them, and I am seeing just how beautiful these people are. Before we left the MTC, my teacher told us to just do what our native companions do...we will adjust so much easier. I told Sister DF that I need her to teach me, and she is. :) The people stare and stare at me. The other day we rode in a jeepne with bars and people had their faces up close to the windows. I told Sister DF that it was like we were in a Zoo, and we laughed. Everything is such an adventure, and I am growing to love it.

My first few days here were pretty difficult, I'm not going to lie. In General Conference this weekend (we watched it again here), they sang "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel." And then I was reminded of all of the blessings I have here and that God loves me so much and he called me here because he knows I can do it. I'm not sure exactly what was said in the conference that touched me so much, but something in me clicked and switched, and I am okay. I am going to work hard here, and forget myself, and remember what president Holland said when he came to the MTC. He said, "Salvation has never been easy. It wasn't easy for the Savior." I am a representative of the Savior. Last night we visited a member, Nanay Rena, and she said, "You will soon be glad that you were called to the Philippines." Nothing prompted it, she just said it. Blessings.

I can understand so much more Tagalog than I thought I'd be able to at this point. Sister De Fiesta said she prayed for a companion like me and that I am "magaling sa Tagalog." She speaks very good English and wants to speak better, so we correct and help each other. The other night though, we were at a member's home and I told Sister DF that I was having a hard time understanding that day for some reason. She turned to me and said, "It's because they're speaking Ilokhano." (Another dialect here.)

We met with a woman the other night in her home made of cauayan and sheets of aluminum, we taught her by candlelight while her children ate rice at the table. I am basically just able to bear my testimony right now, but I am teaching my first lesson about obedience tonight to the young women here. I was reading in Helaman 5 this morning, about Helaman's sons who went on missions. He told them to be obedient and go out and serve missions--I would pull out my scriptures right now to quote it, but I don't have time--and they went out and were diligent. Then they were cast into prison, but they were encircled about by fire. I believe that because of their obedience, they were protected and blessed eternally. I love that chapter. Read it.

We had a beautiful lesson last night with an 80 year old woman named Pascita. We tracted into her grandson(?) earlier, but he was at basketball. She let us in and told us about how she lost her husband a few years ago and felt alone. We taught her about the resurrection and life after this, and she reminded me of a tiny, skinnier, FIlipino version of grandma. When we shook hands after the lesson, we squeezed each others hands, and I felt so much love for her. She listened to everything we said, and we have a return appointment with her.

Today we did laundry by hand, in buckets, and hung our things to dry. Without water on Mondays, it was a difficult task. We had to walk down to the water pump in the neighborhood and pump our own water. Adventures! I truly appreciate and love the people who live here. They are so hardworking, and from what I can see so far, they have their priorities straight. God and family first. I was so humbled last night when a Nanay we met with said that God gives her so many blessings.

I should go. But I am so thankful to you for your letters and support. I couldn't do this without wonderful people behind me, supporting me.
I love love love you momma and poppa. I hope all is well. Keep me in your prayers and I will keep you in mine.
SO much love,
Sister Port

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'm Leaving TODAY!!!!!

This email may be a little scattered. Like my brain right now. We're trying to get everything all ready for our flight tonight--trips to the bookstore, weighing bags, leaving some things behind, sending some things home. Momma, this is hard without you. You've always been such a help to me with these sorts of things. It's all working out fine, just know that my brain is not all here right now cause I'm thinking of a million other things.

Kamusta nanay ko! Kamusta po kayo? Kamusta ang linggo mo? My week has been great. The district has just been getting ready to leave. (I LOVE MY DISTRICT) We've been attending health and safety meetings, departure devotionals, asking final questions about Tagalog grammar, and we had our first culture day in class on Friday. I guess the teachers like to keep us focused on our purpose (weird) and they stay away from telling any personal stories or things about the Philippines for the duration of our time here, except for the last day. So Friday we talked all about what the Philippines were like for our teachers (granted they both went to the San Angeles mission) and they brought us pictures and told us stories finally about people they taught and places they went. It got me a little more pumped. I'm excited to ride jeepnes and tricycles and teach beautiful, humble people about God's love for them.

I realize more and more every day that I am to be a window through which people can see God's love for them. I am to act as my Savior would if He were here. It's tough and I am so imperfect, but I am committed to do my best.

General Conference was amazing. I'd never watched it the way we watched it here. I mean, I'm used to waking up, staying in my pajama pants and sweatshirt, cuddling up to a pillow or two, maybe eating some of Pop's cracked wheat pancakes during the first song, taking notes in my sketchbook while drawing the prophets and apostles faces, bathroom breaks, snack breaks, sleep breaks. Here we all woke up the same time as every day, had breakfast in our Sunday best, and watched General Conference on plastic riser seats. We all stood when the prophets and apostles came on screen, which is another thing I never thought to do before. It was so lovely though. I never noticed before how much the missionaries were referenced in conference, as well as the basic doctrines that we teach as missionaries. Duh, Aly. It was so neat to be included in the phrase "missionaries throughout the world." I am a missionary. Still, it hasn't completely sunk in that I am a messenger of Jesus Christ. I'll wake up sometimes and forget that I am in the MTC...ON A MISSION. All those times when I was younger I thought the missionaries were so old and wise and spiritual. I am one of them.

One theme that kept coming to me throughout General Conference was, "Safeguard the sanctity of your mind and your home." Right now, to me, kind of being out of the world for a little bit, this seems easy. But I think of my past self, listening to music and texting and facebooking. None of those things are bad, but they are difficult to regulate. Life is about sincere human connection--loving others and serving others and learning about others. It's about connecting with our Heavenly Father--praying to Him often, reading our scriptures often. It's so easy to get lost in the superficial, the artificial, the counterfeit. It's such a gift that I am able to gain this perspective from being on a mission. General Conference helped me see exactly what I want in my future, starting now.

We leave TODAY! I get on a plane TODAY! Can you believe it!? In about a day and a half, I will have a new companion (who will probably be a native), I will be eating foreign things, meeting my mission president, and speaking to people in Tagalog.

Alam ko na dito ako dahil may mahalaga na layunin. Mahal ng Diyos ang mga tao niya at tutulong ako nila makita ito. (Long way to go.) I love you so much and will speak to you sooooooooooooooooooooooooooon!!!!!!

I got your package.