Monday, January 25, 2010

Rainy Days in Nong Khai and Faith

1/25/2010 or (2553)

Hello Family,

I imagine that everyone is doing well! This week I have had a bit of a cold. I picked it up from the Zone Leaders who came for switch off this week with Elder Peterson and me. I am getting over it now, however.

Anyway, another good week here in Nong Khai. I can't believe we are heading down to renew our visas and go to moves meeting on Wednesday! It's crazy how fast this moves has gone. This week was really great. It rained this week for two days straight which was a little rougher. Thai people don't go outside in the rain or they believe you will get sick. So we had a lot of appointments fall through on those two days. The temperature, however, felt really nice and cool. It was a little wet though.

This last week we spent a long day at the Church for Elder Peterson to do interviews and have a branch presidency meeting. So that day, I got a lot of reading done. I like to spend my time writing in my journal so I can keep caught up or reading the Bible in Thai. The language of the Bible is really fun to read and it reflects Thai grammar better than the Book of Mormon. I found a really cool verse in there the other day. It was about Christ praying in Gethsemane where He says something in Thai to the effect of "Father if thou be willing take this cup from me but not according to my *heart* but according to your will." I thought that was a really neat translation. It never hit me that it could be translated that way before. Often times when we read scriptures in another language, we understand better. Thai also makes the Isaiah chapters easier because it uses different pronouns to determine when God is talking and when Isaiah is commenting. Another joy of Thai pronouns!

Church was great yesterday. We had a great talk about patience by Sister Ngek and another good talk about keeping baptismal covenants by Brother Nui. The classes were also great. We saw three investigators at Church too! We had Jiab and Yo with Jid.

We teach English on Wednesdays. About 20 people attend. Elder Chiu and I teach basic. Basic is hard to teach because it's mostly taught in Thai. But it's pretty fun. English has brought in a lot of members here in the past. Lots of members attend actually. It's a great chance for them to practice English. English is pretty fun to teach, even if basic is a little hard. It's a good chance to practice Thai, that's for sure!

We ride our bikes a lot. It's almost completely flat here. They are the cheapest and most convenient way to get around. It's always fun to see the countryside. We ride by wads and rice paddies with animal life and then we also get to see markets and all kinds of other sites.

Anyway, onto the happenings of the week. Tuesday I switched off with Elder Brown. He's a great guy. He's in Elder Peterson's group. We went and taught a less active member named Brother Tawng who works at driving a saam law (three wheeled car). The lesson was a bit distracting with his little boy but it was a good lesson. Then we went and saw an investigator who has been an investigator for 5 years named Ting. He's just not quite ready at this point. He's encountered some opposition from his wife and isn't quite ready. We taught him a lesson about Alma 32 that went well and it really gave me some new insights into faith and perceptions of how we should act on our faith. We must rely on God but we must also realize that after we pray and ask God for help we need to go out and take action. True faith is a matter of action - God expects us to put in our work too. That, in turn, will lead to the desired results in our lives. God will work miracles but we must show our willingness to act and to do the things that will bring about change in our lives.

This week we also taught lessons with the super sharp Sister Priaw and the awesome Brother Nui (a member who used to be Catholic- was raised Catholic). Those were both good lessons. They are both really great members who have such great understanding. Sister Priaw always has great scriptural insights, sharing a verse with us every time we meet. Brother Nui has a lot of great faith and really has a firm understanding of the true meaning of faith. Often faith is not a matter of miracles, faith is a matter of the ordinary events of our every day lives.

We also found out this week that Kaeg will be going south for a time to do some healing. We don't know how long it will be, he doesn't have any idea. His brothers/sisters/relatives (unclear which?) asked him to do it. So he will be down there for a time, sadly. He has a great desire to be baptized and to keep the commandments but his time is not yet come for baptism.

Yo and Jid, however, finally made it to Church. They are looking for a special experience with God. Elder Peterson taught them on switch offs and so did I when I switched off with our district leader, Elder D. We both get the feeling that they have a lot of sincerity and that God will hear and answer their prayers, it's just a matter of them expressing faith by coming to Church often. They keep commitments and ask really great questions. They are deep thinkers who really ponder the things that we teach and try to apply the things they learn from the scriptures.

Jiab is doing well. Her ultimate concern is abandoning former traditions. She expresses her concerns openly. She, however, is still expressing faith and slowly but surely, I have seen a change in her from the first week I got here. We taught her both Saturday and Sunday. She is still searching for that spiritual witness. We will keep working with her to establish a firmer faith in Jesus Christ and to see her eventually gain that spiritual witness.

And we also saw the Primary President, Sister Khraysii this week. She's a soft-spoken woman with a lot of faith. She ponders the scriptures deeply and speaks with the Spirit. She lives in an open air house where he husband raises chickens and she sells pigs blood. She told us about the scripture in Matthew about His yoke/burden. It was a great lesson with her and great to be introduced to her. Another example of a great member in Thailand. The members who demonstrate faith despite challenges and who see the eternal perspective on the world.

Anyway, besides that, everything is going well. We continue to eat delicious food and enjoy fairly good health besides my cold right now. Thailand is the happiest place on earth, as always. I hope that all is going well at home and that everyone is enjoying the Utah winter. I pray for you all daily and know that as we rely on God, He will bless us. When we exercise faith unto action, we will see great results in our life.

With love and hope in Christ,

Elder Newman

Monday, January 18, 2010

Zone Conference and Other Happenings

January 18, 2010

Greetings from the land of smiles!

I hope and pray that all is well with the family. It's crazy how fast time is passing. I can definitely tell a difference in my language comprehension from the day I got here to now. It's funny because occasionally I will hear people from Bangkok who will come here to vacation and I will think to myself- wait... That's Thai! For the most part on the street we hear Laotian or Isaan. But actually like I have said in the past, everyone speaks Thai. It's just a matter of when they will speak it. But that's the adventure of Nong Khai! Being so close to Laos, we meet a lot of Laotian people and see a whole new side of Thailand.

Another good but tiring week here in Thailand. We have a dog that lives outside of our house that will start barking in the middle of the night so that disturbed my sleep yesterday and made me a little more tired today but we will have some good time to relax today. That's the thing about missionary work - very tiring for sure. Worthwhile but very tiring. This week went by very quickly and was full of good things.

Here in Nong Khai, we ride past open air markets where they sell fruit, meat, clothing, noodles, and all kinds of different wares. We ride past 7-11s though not as frequently as in Bangkok. Here we will see buffalo and cattle grazing on the sides of the road, big open fields and pastures. The river is pretty prominent but we actually only drive by it every once in a while.

We had Zone Conference last week. We stayed in a really fancy hotel that was about 700 baht per room. The night before Zone Conference, however, I went on switch-offs with Elder Brown (a zone leader in Udorn) and my Phii from the MTC, Elder Hollowell. We went to see Elder Brown's exchange student that he had right before he came to Thailand. He was a nice kid and gave us great Thai food. Then we taught a short lesson with him and his father. It went pretty well but the dad isn't quite ready. He works in the construction of Buddhist temples. It was a good time, however. Khawn Gaen is pretty big; it's closer to the size of Bangkok than most cities out here.

Zone Conference's focus was the Book of Mormon. We were all given a new copy of the Book of Mormon and asked to read it and only mark the names of Christ in red. As it turns out, there are many more names of Christ in the Book of Mormon than I thought. So far, Nephi's principal titles that he likes include: the Lamb of God and the messiah along with the Holy One of Israel. It's a fun time to see how the Book of Mormon bears witness of Jesus Christ and points to His atoning sacrifice. I have really seen the power that the Book of Mormon can have in the lives of all those who read it. And I have seen how members here in Thailand offer new insights every time we ask them to share. I remember on one of my first nights here in Nong Khai, we went to visit a great member, Bro. At. He has been a member for 5 years but always pulls things out of the scriptures that I have never seen before. Then Sister Priaw, a fairly recent convert, also always shares a great verse from the scriptures when we teach her. I have been amazed by the testimony and understanding of the members here in Thailand. They truly have insights that I have never thought of and have such strong testimonies of and faith in the Savior.

On Wednesday we saw Brother Somluck who is doing very well as always. We also taught English which was pretty fun. Then on Thursday we planned and saw Khaeg, who is doing really well. He reads so frequently, prays daily, and attends Church weekly. He really has a desire to find healing from the Savior and from God. He works to develop his faith and desires to be baptized. Despite his physical limitations, he works to press forward.

On Friday we went to correlation with our brand new ward mission leader, Brother At. He is going to do a marvelous job. He has a desire to help the Branch grow and to strengthen the membership. I didn't really have any concept of ward missionary work before I came to Thailand but now I see how the ward level/branch level can be an effective tool to help bring others unto Christ. It's been good to see how it works in Thailand to apply for future use!

On Saturday we had a whirlwind of a day! We saw a man named Ting, who has been an investigator for years. He shared with us his concerns about Church and his concerns about baptism. He has faith but still wonders how we will acquire faith once we are on the path. Then we went to see Khaeg and shared a short explanation of the atonement which he understands fairly well. Then we saw Jiab, Brother Somluck's wife who is doing really great. We saw her actually on Saturday and Sunday. She is expressing faith and trying her hardest to gain that spiritual witness.

On Sunday it's quite an experience to sit in a room with only about 40 people and take the sacrament. It's so short but the time of reflection brings our thoughts closer to the things of eternity. We ponder upon the Savior and His ministry and the things he has done for us in a place where 70 years ago it would have been insane to think that we would be. We saw many less active members attend Church also. We saw Brother Tawng come out for the first time in a long time. He is a member who hasn't been out for quite a while. Last time we taught him, we asked him to pray for a testimony. And we saw him come to Church. I felt pretty shocked.

Then after Church something a little bit out of the usual happened. A member named Sister Leg brought someone inside the Church who had been circling on her motorcycle for a while. She invited her in and she said she was interested in English. So I talked to her about the English program but I was a bit confused because then she started asking questions about what we were doing right then. Church was just over and we were eating. We had rice porridge with some papaya salad and sticky rice along with some Thai treats. It turns out that she wants peace in her life and a friend told her that Christianity can bring that. She decided to come to the closest place to her house, which is our Church. I was shocked. We made an appointment for this Tuesday. We will have to see what happens with that. I was amazed at this little miracle. I hadn't really expected that to ever happen. But yet, there it was happening. Despite the fact that missionary work is often very difficult there are miracles. There are miracles that take place in the simple things. Life is often like that- miracles in the everyday occurrences. We often overlook the things that are truly miraculous, expecting grander things. God, however, works in a much smaller way than that. God works through the simple things of the world to bring to pass the great and marvelous changes. God works through the words we speak, the steps we take. Oftentimes we will pray for a miracle and be blinded by our own vision of what a miracle should be like. But as we take a step back and look at the smaller things, we will see that miracles do happen, when we believe. Faith, however, is not built by these miracles but often miracles can confirm our faith.

God is watching out for us and mindful of us. Often we will pray for things that we desire and obtain an answer in perhaps an unexpected fashion. This, however, does not mean that God did not hear our prayer. What we come to realize, however, is that often our desire is not God's desire. Prayer allows our wills to align. I have seen this often in Thailand. Yesterday we visited Elder Thiraphong's mother in the hospital. She is doing better after surgery for the tumor but as we walked the halls of the hospital there was so much suffering. I came to realize, however, that while I don't understand the reason for the suffering, I know that God loves us and even if He doesn't answer our prayer as we wish, He still watches out for us. And in the end, I know that Christ took upon himself that suffering. I have never felt the power of the atonement more strongly in my life until I became a missionary. I have seen that as we rely on God, we will feel the power of Christ in our lives. We will be able to conquer all things and be succored by our Savior. Even though life is hard, the Savior stands ready with open arms to comfort us in our sorrows.

Thailand teaches us everyday in everyway we can imagine. I leave you with a wish for us to be more like the Savior and to make the power of his atonement known as we stand as witnesses of him and comfort those in need of comfort.

I love you all and send you all my blessings,

Elder Jacob Newman


January 11, 2010

Dear Family,

Greetings from Khon Kaen! We are here because we are going to be having Zone Conference tomorrow. Today we will be interview by President Smith. We will stay the night in a hotel, have Zone Conference tomorrow and then return home around 8 p.m. It was about a three hour ride here. We also managed to find ourselves picking up the Elders in one of Elder Shill's old areas, Gumphawapi. That's also where Brother Sakhaa is from. It's really a small town. We drove up and saw the one and only 7-11 swarmed with pedal-cabs (three wheeled cars that are really common to get around here but we actually don't use them that often) and with lots of people shopping. Gumphawapi is really quite out there but it was fun to see it and think back on what Elder Shill told me about it. Right now it has two Thai elders there.

It's been another good week here in Nongkhai. I can tell it's starting to finally heat back up again after a nice long spell of cool weather, but it did rain earlier this week. It was picturesque that day - there was a light mist of fog over the rooftops of the city. It was really pretty. We saw some great things this week as we do always.

This week we had a chance to see Khaeg (which means guest or Arab in Thai). He's doing really well. This was the first time I actually taught him. He had a stroke earlier this year and so he has a hard time walking. But he faithfully reads the Book of Mormon and goes to Church. He was sharing with us his feelings about prayer and how he knows that Heavenly Father listens to his prayers as he gains his strength back and feels his spirit refreshed at Church. He's from the South and actually is Muslim but we gained permission to teach him. When he was sharing about his physical ailment and how it has brought him to a belief in God, I thought of the song Amazing Grace for some reason "I once was blind but now I see." I have often seen how a physical impairment can bring some of the greatest faith. Often the physical impairment causes us to reflect on the spiritual nature of our lives and ponder those things which are of more importance.

We also saw Jid, who is an investigator who has been taught everything with her husband Yo, another investigator, but has yet to come to church since I have been here. They were dropped because they went out of town before I was here but then picked back up by Elder Peterson. Jid has faith in God and in the Gospel but we are still working to get them to Church. The problem is that Jid and Yo only have one car and live about 12 kilometers from the Church, so transportation is definitely an issue. But she expressed how she loves reading the Book of Mormon and loves to pray to God. I think she has faith to press forward but the issue of Church will present some problems. I have yet to meet Yo.

This week we also met Jack and Awhm. They knew the first missionary from here, Elder Thiraphong, who is now serving in Chiang Mai but came back to NongKhai for a time due to his mother's illness. She has a tumor on her brain. Jack and Awhm have desire to see how the Gospel can help them but don't really have the time to commit yet. He shared that one of his triplets was ill and that the one thing he wanted in this life was for his child to be better. It was rather touching to see the love of parents. It's a universal theme.

And for another great happening, we saw Brother Somluck's wife, Jiab another two times this week. She is really doing great. She faithfully attends Church is praying often and is starting to get more into the scriptures. She also has a deep understanding and desire to be baptized. She has expressed how she feels different since she has started learning with the Elders. We rescheduled a baptismal date with her for the 21st of February. She also brought her son from her previous marriage and he has expressed a desire to be baptized as of yesterday! His name is Nice, pronounced more like Nay. He's 12 years old. Jiab is doing great and I can't wait for the day when she gets baptized. To see the entire family of Brother Somluck in the Church will be a great thing. They will be such an asset to the branch.

Sundays we spend most of our time at the Church while Elder Peterson, being the champ that he is, spends his time figuring out everything for the Branch. He's so dedicated and does a great job. He was told when he was made the Branch president to work himself out of a job and that he will DEFINATELY do. He has worked to establish everything for a smooth transition to a Thai Branch President, which is ultimately the goal across Thailand. He's a great companion! As of right now, Thailand now only has about three places that have missionary branch presidents, Surin and Buriram (both of which are close to Cambodia) and Nongkhai.

Lessons from the week- Faith can be built as we experience trials. Life is often very difficult, but as we experience the trials that come from mortal existence, we often find the deepest trust and faith in God. This trust and faith will carry us through the harder days and through the times of frustration. Another lesson- listening carefully is a skill that we all must truly work on our entire lives! I have noticed that listening is something that is very important especially when it's not your own language. If you truly listen, you will actually feel someone's soul rather than the words that are coming from their mouth. It doesn't really matter what language we speak or what cultural background we are from, in the end we are all children of God who have the same needs. We all desire to feel loved and to feel valued. As we truly listen with our hearts, not just our ears, even if we don't understand every word we hear, we will see the power of words and the power of our influence.

Another valuable lesson: Patience is something that when developed will help us everyday! Patience brings us comfort, peace and love for those we work with and serve. As we learn that we are all human with imperfections and flaws, we come to realize that we are all in this together. Patience will build our faith and help us to feel of the love of God. Patience and understanding are the key to resolving conflict and avoiding offense. As men, we often feel that our way is the right way. In the end, however, when we put ourselves in other's shoes, we see the variety of experiences and ways that others think and come to realize how valuable working together is. Patience with ourselves, however, might be the most valuable thing of all. Often we become so frustrated with our imperfections that we miss the mark and fail to see that the atonement doesn't just apply to those around us, it applies to us too. Brother Sakhaa taught us once that we need to stop thinking that the atonement can help everyone except for me. We need to start thinking about how the atonement can help us and then how we can in turn help others. I have seen that time and time again in the lives of members, other missionaries, and myself. When we realize that Christ is waiting with open arms to receive us and He stands ready to receive us, we will realize that the atonement will and does help us.

And Thailand continues to be great. From the days where we mostly hear Laotian being spoken around us, to the street venders selling their wares, to the most delicious khaaw man gai thawd that I have ever had, Nongkhai's environment is great. And sacrament meeting is an experience with so few members. The songs are sung softly with so few people but that doesn't mean that they aren't song with joy. It's pretty amazing to think that here, in the middle of Northeastern Thailand there are saints who are striving on the path that leads back to God. They may be few in number, but that doesn't diminish their contribution. They sacrifice for the Gospel. (They also serve in many callings!) I love the Thai saints. They truly are the children of God. I think when we sacrifice the comforts of home and go out to serve, whether it be in Thailand or in Idaho, in Africa or in Argentina, our hearts expand and we realize the true meaning of love. I didn't know how much I could love a culture, a people, a way of life before I came to Thailand. I am so grateful for them. They teach me everyday, more than just language, but the importance of the eternal things. I love Thailand and its people!

We just got a new ward mission leader, Brother At replaced the famous Brother Arm whom every missionary loves but I have yet to meet since he is in Bangkok doing an internship. He is the Sunday School president but will be a great ward mission leader along with our great ward missionaries. Elder Peterson got the missionary program working with the ward here really strong. Let's hope that strong tradition continues long into the future!

I pray for you daily. I know your prayers help. You are all wonderful and I love your support. Thanks for all you do. God be with you till we speak again!

With love,

Elder Newman

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcome to 2553! (Formerly Known as 2010)

Dear Family,

First of all Happy New Year 2553! (Otherwise known as 2010). We see signs heralding the new year all over the place. The Buddhist year is 2553 but you see signs for both everyplace. Everyone here is so friendly too that all throughout this last week we heard holiday greetings "Happy Christmas and Happy New Year" from both Thais and tourists. There are a lot of tourists here because of the proximity to Laos.

I hope that all is going well in your side of the world. It's starting to heat back up here a little bit but the weather is still pretty nice. I can't remember if I told you but apparently when it hits the hot season, we are going to go out and proselytize for the beginning of the day and then study during the middle of the day. Apparently during the middle of the day there isn't really anyone outside and so it makes more sense for us to stay cool.

This week was really good despite a rougher start. Elder Peterson and I were both sick at the beginning of the week. We didn't sleep very well because of it but now I am feeling back to my chipper old self. Lots of bed rest coupled with fluids and good mild food helped me to get over it pretty quickly.

I saw my first elephant this last week! It was at the place we ate dinner on Monday night. There was a man going around with his elephant selling sugar cane to feed it. It was a pretty small one and it was playing a harmonica. That was pretty exciting if I do say so myself.

This past week we met with Brother Somluck's (a recent convert) wife, Jiab, and taught her Saturday and Sunday. She's doing so well. She really has a desire to see how Brother Somluck could change his life so much. Last week he gave a talk on how his faith caused him to give up drinking. She saw this and was curious as to how the Church could help him change so much. They have a little three or four year old daughter who is adorable beyond belief named Bella. Jiab is doing very well. She is gaining more faith and is progressing towards baptism. She actually bore her testimony yesterday about how the gospel has blessed their life as a family. In our lesson with her yesterday we taught with the incomparable Brother At, who is a member of less than 5 years, but knows the scriptures like a pro, and he taught how family prayer will be a blessing to their family. It was a great lesson and I think Jiab will be praying with Somluck on a regular basis.

Yesterday during Testimony Meeting it was really good to hear from the members. The older members talked about how the branch coming back to Nong Khai has been a blessing in their lives. They talked about how quickly the time has passed since the branch came back. The branch is growing and will soon be under the leadership of a member branch president. The branch only has about 40 to 50 members who attend actively but there's definitely a sense of family among them. Everyone really watches out for each other and there's a lot of great love one for another. It's almost like they are all just one big family. It's also pretty amazing to see how long some of the members have been members up here. It will be a really great day to when this branch will be a ward and part of a stake in Udorn! I don't know how long that will take, but it is possible with the faith and work of the members.

As for other happenings, we saw a member who has been a member for a long time but is only recently starting to come back to Church, his name is Brother Rid. He works as a DJ and is married. We taught a really great lesson with him about the restoration/the first lesson. He has good understanding and will be such an asset to the branch once he becomes fully active. I really have seen so many great stories with working with less active members. It's been a great experience to be able to work with them and see how as we do the simple things like reading our scriptures, we will feel the love of God and see how the gospel will be a blessing to us.

Nong Khai continues to be a wonderful experience. I have grown to have a lot of sympathy for bishops and branch presidents since being here. It's an awful lot of work. Elder Peterson handles it so well and does a great job too! They have seen some great things going on here since he has been Branch President.

As for spiritual thoughts/reflections, this week I think I really realized the importance of keeping a good journal. I have fallen behind since I came to Thailand. Journals allow us to express the feelings that come to us from God and to remember the precious moments that we have had. Granted, I think my new goal for the new year, is to keep a much better journal to remember this magical place with all of its adventures and to remember the feelings that I have had as I have taught about the love of God. I also learned a lesson of priorities this week. When it comes right down to it, life is full of a lot of priorities that seem really important to us but actually aren't. I have seen in Thailand how family and faith are much more important than I can imagine. I have seen how the influence of righteous parents leading their children can change the lives of their children and how in the end, life will change, but our faith will be like the anchor of our souls. I was reminded of a scripture in, I believe Ether 12:4-6, that discusses that. Faith, hope for a glorious and bright future, will sustain us in times of trail, doubt or heartache. These things are the things that are truly important. It's a blessing to also know that through Jesus Christ, families can be together forever. Even though circumstances may separate us, we cannot be separated in the end from the love of God and from the love of one another. This love will sustain us in the harder times. What a great knowledge to have!

I feel so grateful to think that almost a year ago I was called to come to Thailand! It feels just like yesterday. The magic of that special moment in February still hasn't faded as I continue to be here in Thailand working to help God's children. I know that God is watching out for us. As we reflect upon our blessings this year, I don't know what next year will hold but I do know that as long as we press forward with gratitude in our hearts and with a smile on our faces, showing our love for everyone, we will have a great year!I pray for you all daily and hope that all goes well for you all. May God bless you all in your various pursuits!


Elder Jacob Newman