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