Belated Merry Christmas! It was great to hear from you all. You all seem to be doing well and sound healthy and happy. I guess it could be possible for me to still be here in Nong Khai by the next time we talk.
There are many, many dogs in Thailand and many of them have rabies. My companion's last companion was bitten and was required to get shots at the hospital. It's no fun. The dogs are a bit more aggressive than they are in Bangkok so I have been a bit more careful.
Our district is just the four of us Elders in our apartment. We are in the Udorn Zone. I will have to go to a Zone Conference to see exactly who is in our zone.
The branch is really great. It's pretty small. We have about 40-50 people who attend weekly. I don't know everyone yet but they have quite a few 19-35 year old people. Years ago, the branch was opened in Nong Khai and stayed open for a while but then was closed because of lack of attendance. The members who were still active started attending Church in Udorn which is about a one hour bus ride to the south. The mission basically said that they would bring missionaries back if they, the members, could find enough of the old members to come back to church. So they did it. But a lot of the records were lost due to a flood (?) fire (?) or some other event, so some people were rebaptized and reconfirmed. The branch has some really great members who are long time members and a lot of great new members. The baptism yesterday was the baptism of a member's brother. I have never met the member but apparently he's fantastic. His name is Brother Arm. He is in Bangkok doing an internship. On Christmas Brother Ice was baptized. He's great. Members in Thailand are really special. Those who are as active as they are are truly great examples for all of us!
Christmas day we ended up having a fireside that went pretty well. We watched Joy to the World, which was good but my companion had to translate since we didn't have a copy in Thai. After that, we had the baptism which was awesome! We sang a special musical number in Thai, I Like to Look for Rainbows. He was very excited to be baptized and gave a good testimony. One of the speakers was amazing too. Her name is Sister L. She was the first member in her family and she worked to help bring her whole family into the church. Her parents are named Sister Bone and Brother Thursack. They are a great family and he has good potential to be the next branch president. After that, we had the Christmas party which was fun. They had Thai fried rice and lots of Thai treats. One of them was sticky rice with sesame seeds and something that made it orange. It was good. The party was a big hit with the members.
The day after Christmas we had a bit of a scare at the Church. Basically what happened is this: We taught an awesome recent convert named Sister Priaw and then she was waiting for her aunt to come pick her up while we taught another recent convert, Somluck, with his wife, Jiab, and their little daughter Bella. We were in the sacrament room and Sister Priaw came running in saying two people had run into the Church and one of them possibly had a knife and a gun after a little fight outside of the Church. She was scared. They ran into the bathroom but then we saw them leave. We thought that both had left so Sister Priaw's aunt honked her horn on her motorcycle and we escorted her out and then got the door to the Church locked. We went back to continue the lesson. But, we heard a loud gun-like noise outside. There was someone still in the Church. We saw them as we sat in the sacrament room. Jiab made some calls and we sat locked in the sacrament room. Jiab was really terrified. The police came and we also got a hold of Brother Thursack who is in a leadership position in the police. The front door to the chapel opens like a garage door from the outside so we waited until members of the branch got there, namely the first counselor, Brother Egg, and then slid the key under the door to him and we got out of the Church. When we came out, the Church was surrounded by police and members who had seen the commotion. In the end, though, it turned out all right despite the stress. The person who was in the Church actually had no weapons so we weren't in any real danger on that front. It's all a bit of a blur but that's basically what happened. No need to worry at all. They searched the building and he was found and questioned. The Church is secure and it's fine. Don't worry. I repeat, don't worry.
Besides that, the last couple of days have been going pretty well. It's a great time of year, however, to celebrate the birth of the Savior. That's been on my mind a lot the past couple of days. I think that being in Thailand really made me think of the real reason for Christmas. Possibly because it was the first year away from home for Christmas, but I realized how important it is to keep our Christmas along with our lives centered on Jesus Christ and his atonement. Although we may get presents on Christmas and think about the receiving of gifts, shopping, keeping up with holiday traditions, in the end it comes down to the fact that Christmas isn't about any of that at all. Christmas is about Jesus Christ. It is about his life and his power to help us and provide us with comfort and hope. It's a time to reflect on the blessings in our life. This year I feel particularly grateful for family, friends, and the blessings of good health and a wonderful life. This year I also realize how as we rely on God all things are possible! And even though we may be miles apart, as we pray for one another, we can feel that closeness everyday! (Just like Brother Egg said to me before I left). It's a blessing to know that we have a Father in Heaven who loved us so much that He provided a Savior to overcome the world. Because He overcame the world, we can too. Even though we may face challenges and trials, we can overcome the world. Every day we can rest from the pains of the world as we rely on Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven. What a blessing that is!
Thank you for all your support and prayers. I know that your prayers have been answered in my behalf.
I love you all and pray for you daily!
Elder Jacob Newman