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

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