Monday, May 24, 2010

The Thai People Are Wonderful

May 24, 2010

Dearest Family,

Sorry I am emailing later than usual, today we actually did service. The faraang family in our branch, the Atnips, are moving to Bangkok so we helped them get packed up. The movers were Thai so we went to help.

This week has been a bit crazy with all the political activity and the missionary activity! Being with Elder Jensen, we put our time out there for sure. I haven't ever come back more exhausted and satisfied in Thailand. I feel like we are really putting forth our effort. We are talking to everyone. And frankly, it's really fun. I remember at first how it's so scary to talk to Thai people. But then you look in their eyes and realize that they love you for trying to speak their language and they are simply so friendly.

We talk to so many people each day. Whether it be about English class or religion, we introduce ourselves, learn new vocabulary together, feel our love for the people, laugh all day long and find people who are willing to listen. I feel like we are on the verge of something big here in Chiang Mai. The area in the past has been a little rough. It has seen some great success but it's also been a little slow. But we are seeing miracles as we exercise faith. I think the greatest miracles we see, however, are in our own perspectives. I have seen my perspective of life change. We met a man the other day who told us that he didn't think about tomorrow. He only thought about today. I thought about how in our own lives, an eternal perspective is a crucial aspect in creating a happy life. When we know where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going, life gains purpose. Life becomes more than simple suffering and happiness. Suffering becomes a time of purification. Sanctity. We see that we do have a purpose for being here and that we all come from, what I have come to call in Thai, the highest royal being.

And so the work in Chiang Mai pushes on! This last week we got a new investigator every day except for Sunday. I feel very happy about the progress going on in the area. 

As far as the rest of the week, I know that all of you heard about and probably, wait...did panic about the political action in Thailand. No need to worry. Everything is once again peaceful here in Chiang Mai. In fact, there are no symbols of red shirts anywhere. The train station was vacated of red shirts and the city is at peace again. We actually were only put on lockdown for one day because of the action going on in Chiang Mai. I heard about the action in Bangkok and I know it seems very scary. But please don't worry. The areas that were evacuated are Asoke and Ding Daeng which are downtown Bangkok. They will be able to go back soon hopefully.

Actually, Elder Oaks came for a special stake conference this past weekend along with Bishop Burton and Elder Halstrom. Elder Oaks gave a special prayer for peace in the country. It's pretty miraculous they came. The political action of last week fizzled out at a very auspicious time for them to come. In fact, it's too much to be coincidental.

Elder Halstrom gave a mission conference that we watched via Skype. It was great. He talked about changing something in the things we do today to be a better missionary. He also answered questions and gave some great counsel.

There were so many faraangs at Church this last week. The BYU group and a group doing an internship in Chiang Raay. It was pretty crazy. There weren't enough headsets and translation was a bit difficult. SarahJane's friend will be here for three months. Pretty funny how that worked out like that. She's living in a different amphoe called Sangamphaeng where the District Leader companionship used to live. The group seems to love it even though, except for a few returned missionaries, they can't speak Thai at all. What a neat opportunity to come back and do humanitarian service in Thailand.

Anyway... Thailand continues to be wonderful! 
This week there were some great things that happened. We met a family named Yuun (the dad) and Faam (the mom). They are Catholic and seriously the most generous people I have met. The first time they saw us they said to us "You look so happy, how can we be as happy as you are?" They don't quite get the impact of our message however. Granted, Thai isn't their first language - they are hill tribe people. They sell fried treats, Thai custard and drinks at franchise stands that are common across Thailand. But they don't quite get the idea of the restoration or of authority. We are going to keep working with them and help them to read in the Book of Mormon, gain testimonies and get to Church. They are so kind. They feed us so much fruit and so many treats I feel guilty. They live in a tiny wooden house that's just off the center of the city. Humble circumstances. I hope they can get it.

Noy, a baptisimal dater, didn't come to Church this week, sadly. I thought for sure he would come but we found out he's on the wagon for baptism. We just need to get members involved and help him gain more faith. I know this is possible. He's shown his faith already by being so gracious to us and really listening to us intently.

Ploy is a literal diamond (ploy is the word diamond) in the rough. She's a great investigator. She's progressing so well and gaining a testimony. She's going to be a solid convert because she has her dad in the Church who's the rock, Brother Biw, and she has lots of friends in the Young Women's. She's reading scriptures and excited about baptism. I love seeing how her faith is growing and how she really has a desire to do the things that are right!

Like I said earlier, Elder Jensen and I are on fire with new investigators. Just keep praying we can find the ones who are really ready. We are so willing to work and so willing to find them. I just want to help these people see how having that eternal perspective changes everything. I love this place. Ah, the food, the people, the missionary work, even the heat, I just love it. Even when it's hard, I'm so glad I made the decision to come here. Life as a missionary is one of the most fun and most rewarding experiences you will ever have. I feel so focused and motivated to stay focused. My priorities have changed for the better and I see how God worked in my life to bring me to this point. It's crazy to look back and see how everything leads to the point we are at now. It's like a great chain of events that lead to a great story.

I love this time to serve God. As it approaches my year mark I feel sad to think it's almost halfway over but I'm determined to make it the best mission possible! No regrets because it's really not my mission it's God's mission. Once we realize it's His, not our, work, missionary work becomes much more fun and less stressful. It becomes about love and not about anything else. And I love it. It's been a great moves so far. One of the best of my mission and I am grateful to be here in Chiang Mai. I love you all and pray for you daily. Remember that God loves you too! I had so many experiences this week that made me think of God's love, from the man who's girlfriend left him to talking to Brother Off who's struggling right now, God loves us. Don't ever forget it. Ever. 

Love you all lots,

Elder Jacob Newman

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chiang Mai Is Peaceful

May 17, 2010

Dear Family,

Well from what I can gather, everything seems peaceful here in Chiang Mai. There are areas where we do see red shirts but I have yet to see anything. Chiang Mai is very peaceful even if there might be demonstrations. The only place that is dangerous right now is the Asoke/Din Daeng area. Bangkok is simply huge. It's just the heart of Bangkok that's dangerous. So... Don't worry. I am safe and of course we stay away from demonstrations and areas that could be dangerous.

Here in Thailand this week has been pretty great. First, 30 plus BYU students came to Chiang Mai and will be here for three months, including SarahJane's roommate, Margo. It was funny to see them all at Church. I recognized three of them from BYU.

The sacrament meeting was great, as usual. Chiang Mai has such a strong system of support and has wonderful membership. At this time, however, sacrament meeting attendance across the country is down. Thailand's sacrament meeting attendance is actually in a decreasing pattern right now. It's so hard to see this. It hit a peak in the early 2000s and now it is decreasing. I don't quite understand the reason. As missionaries, it makes us very sad to see how many people will get baptized with faith and then fall away. The responsibility really falls upon the members to reactivate and fellowship new converts. I think that's a lesson I have seen so often in Thailand.

Frankly, missionary work in Thailand is extremely difficult. (This is not to say it's easy anywhere. This is simply a fact.) We spend a lot of time talking to lots of people and we get rejected a lot - in a very nice, every religion teaches us to be good kind of way. This, however, becomes less of a downer and more of a source of encouragement in the end. Being in Thailand has taught me the value of hard work. We go out everyday and give it our all and we will see things happen. We see miracles like a recent convert named Brother Biw who bore his testimony/gave a short talk yesterday about how the gospel is a blessing in his life and for his family. We see people like Brother Egg who is now a ward missionary and is still very active from what I hear. We see people like Jiab and her family whose whole life was changed. Granted, the quantity isn't very impressive by our eyes but the worth of these souls is so infinite. We walk around all day telling these people how much value they have. And I see more and more everyday how much value we all have. We really have so much divine potential. We can't ever forget that or ignore that.

We had an interesting experience on Saturday. About two weeks ago we invited a man at a walking market near our house that's pretty big and popular. He told us he was Christian and we told him about the Book of Mormon. He lives pretty far from the Church. We made an appointment with him earlier this week and he seemed somewhat indifferent. When we arrived at the wad where we agreed to meet, however, I was shocked. He had bought us water, waited for us even though we were late and then took us to his house. Here in Chiang Mai there are many hill tribe people. He is from the Lahu tribe. We sat down in a small yard with him and the rest of his family. We ended up at one point teaching 8 -10 people. It was a good lesson and they agreed for us to come back.

At this time, I felt so blessed to think that we ran into them at the market and that they will now have an opportunity to learn about these things. I pray that we can help them and that we can continue to find more investigators who are prepared and willing to listen and not simply เกรงใจ Elder. This time here in Chiang Mai with Elder Jensen is such a blessing. Elder Jensen is fantastic. He works way hard, is very focused and dedicated and teaches very well. He's another blessing to have as a companion. Every companion teaches us so many valuable lessons. And everyday we just keep learning together. It's fun to learn Thai together since we're similar moves in country. It's been a blast.

I did a lot of translating at Zone Conference. My strength in Thai is that I speak clearly, my vocabulary's pretty weak though. Actually, I make mistakes all the time. Tones are hard. The other day I accidently told someone that they could learn more about the church of “alcohol” rather than “our” church. The words “our” and “alcohol” are only different by one letter and a tone. So that was awesome. I have lots of funny stories about tones. I actually haven't said anything TOO crazy but I still say weird things sometimes.

I want to let everyone know that Thailand's great. I often think back at the past and think of the decisions that led me here to Thailand. And then, I think about my time here in Thailand. I just think everyone should know that I wouldn't trade it for the world. Even the days where we go out inviting all day for 8 hours in the hot sun I wouldn't trade the laughs I've had with companions, the people I've talked to, the weird and crazy experiences we've had. (Last week we taught some faraangs at a muay thai place that we passed by. Another day, I was inviting someone and a naked man with a machete climbed up the wall behind me. - I didn't see it but Elder Jensen did.) And, the spiritual things, I wouldn't trade for anything! Especially my time here in Chiang Mai. I feel a transformation in my life and in my perspective. I feel my outlook on life is different. There are things that are "important" and there are things that are important. Don't let your life become full of "then I would be happy"s if such and such happened. Look to the future but love the moment you are in. Even if it's hot and you're tired and you feel like no one's listening to you, I have never felt more joy as I have tried to help these people understand the Savior and His atonement.

I feel like I say this a lot but the gospel is more than just true, the gospel is so real and has a transforming power in people's lives. The other day we taught a man who had read from the first three chapters of the Book of Mormon. He's a Christian and skeptical of the Book of Mormon but he said the following: Even though I think it might be false, there's something special about this book. The Book of Mormon, as my freshman year second semester BOM teacher said, is the handbook of the atonement. We understand Christ from it. In Thailand, I've seen Christ more personally and felt closer to him than I ever felt possible. The Thai language gives a whole new meaning to Christ. He's our king, our lord and master. And I love him. Thai expresses our relationship with God as his children. When we teach people to pray we will use a less complex pronoun - children - rather than the formal phuagkhaaphraong - servants of thee. We talk to God like we would talk to our dad. What a special relationship.

Anyway, things are great. I'm healthy, oh so happy and loving Thailand. I love you all and pray for you all. Thailand's the best place ever and I know that I'm supposed to be here. Pray we can find those people that God has in store for us and that we will be able to do what he wants us to do!

Love you all lots and lots,

Elder Jacob Newman

Monday, May 10, 2010

I Love Chiang Mai

May 10, 2010

Dearest Family,

I don't have much to say this week when it comes to writing, since I already talked to you but I thought I might as well drop you a short note. It's crazy how fast this year is going already. It seems like I just barely got to Thailand but this moves I will hit my year mark as a missionary. It seems so unreal to think how quickly time has passed! We need to make sure we take advantage of every moment.

We're still working to find new investigators. I feel like we worked really hard this week and saw a lot of great things even if there were some pretty sad disappointments. We expected at least 5 investigators at Church but only got our one solid, daughter of a member actually out to Church. I know that as we really put our faith on the line and just keep working as hard as we can, we'll see some great miracles. Of course, sometimes they take time. But I have no doubt that miracles can happen.

I translated for all of sacrament meeting this week. One speaker read the entire proclamation on the family in sacrament meeting in Thai. I didn't have a copy ready in English so that was a bit tricky. The new Elders and Sister gave their testimonies. Basically Church here in Chiang Mai is simply fantastic. The members are awesome and so many are so strong. I feel so grateful that I have seen this branch. The translator for the Liahona/ the Church lives here. Her name is Sister Ju. She actually knows Elder Shill since he was a greenie up here. She's way good at English. From what I can tell, she has been a member since a very young age too. The multi-generationalism of this branch is pretty amazing. I love to see how these people really work so hard to make the Church work here in Thailand. There's a lot of sacrifice involved being in the Chiang Mai district since everything's so spread apart but they all do it with a smile on their face. I just love that.

Elder Jensen is great. It's so fun to be with someone who's your same age (ish) in the mission. It's been really fun to understand Thai together and work together so far. He's a very dilligent, hard working, and dedicated Elder, that's for sure. I feel so blessed to be serving with him. It's going to be a great 2 (hopefully) moves here in Chiang Mai. We are seeing miracles slowly.

Missionary work isn't easy but it's worth it. The connections we form with people, the children of God, are invaluable and simply touching. Sure we will have the hard days, but the sweet moments make it so worth it and build our faith. I love doing this. Like I said this is the best decision I made - to come to Thailand. It's hard to see the difference we make a lot of times. In fact, I think as humans, we often wonder about the difference we make, but I have come to realize that God sees our efforts and doesn't forget them.

Anyway, I simply can't describe how much I love it here. This next week will be zone conference. Keep us in your prayers that we can find great investigators who are really dedicated to learning and that we will know what we should do. I love you all so much and am so grateful for all of you.

Love you all lots,

Elder Jacob Newman

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Trip to Bangkok and a New Companion

May 3, 2010

Dearest Family,

It's been a crazy week - what with moves meeting and all. But it's been a really great week at the same time. The funny thing about this moves is how almost everyone in my group went senior companion or were placed with someone of the close age. Actually, several people in my group went trainer this moves. It's pretty intense to think that we are now old enough to be trainers and to do all of that. I realized this moves, however, how much Thai we can understand and how long we have really been here. I

Anyway, the trip to moves was bittersweet. It was really sad to say goodbye to Elder Day. He's going to be a fantastic zone leader in Srinakarin. I will miss him and our fun times here in Chiang Mai but on the trip to moves, I felt sure I would get a great new companion. I got to moves meeting, after a very restless night. (I had to sleep on the top bunk on the train, the most uncomfortable place to sleep ever. I can never sleep on the top.)

Moves meeting really focused on our efforts to find new people and to help people progress. We also talked about how this time in Thailand is a bit stressful and that certain areas are closing for missionary work for the time being. I think it was only the Sisters area in Asoke/Din Daeng. Besides that, they warned us to avoid any red shirt activity.

Anyway, it came to the announcement and Elder Jensen is now my companion. He is awesome and we are going to do some great things here in Chiang Mai. I am excited! Elder Jensen is from Arizona. He has a great personality, so friendly and speaks Thai very well. He has a great attitude and I love his style of teaching and working. He's a hard worker and is very dedicated. There's a word in Thai to describe him that means "to set up heart" which I don't know how to translate the meaning. He's served in Nongkhai and was companions with Elder Peterson, actually. It's going to be sweet. He knows Sarah Jane's freshman roommates, Courtney and Casey. We are getting along great and we've seen some great things so far. Elder Jensen has had two Thai,... well... one Thai and one Laotian, companions.

But the first random happening in Thailand that's been this random happened this week. I got off the train in Chiang Mai and carried some bags onto the platform. I looked to my right and I see. Get this. Stephanie Messick my piano teacher with her new husband! To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was way confused. We had been on the same train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. She just came here to vacation. She saw us before we got off the train but she didn't see me and then she said to me "Right when you got off the train I was about to ask if the Elders knew you." Turns out, she actually got to see me! She took a picture with me. They said they just came to travel around - they don't speak Thai, clearly, but they will probably have a good time. I was so shocked. Wow! It made my day to run into someone so randomly like that. What are the chances that that would EVER happen?

I can say that I feel genuinely eager to start the moves off and make things happen here in Chiang Mai. I feel that this is the time for Chiang Mai and we're going to see so many things happen!

I still get to translate every week in church. There are actually members who live here in Chiang Mai from America. One family has three children and he works for the government doing something here in Thailand. There are also single members who own a world renowned fly-fishing company called Rainy's where a lot of the members work who attend Church weekly. They can't speak Thai.

Did you ever see where the Church is on google earth? You should be able to find it pretty easily. It's by a wad called wad phrasing (a temple). I will write it in Thai for you to find it วัดพระสิงห์. It's a pretty big and noticeable wad that's in a well trafficked and touristy part of the city. You should have no problem finding it. It is right near our house.

A lesson that I seem to keep learning every week is how we are all children of God. I have seen that so intimately here in Thailand. Everyday we go out and share our hearts and tell these people of their eternal potential. Sometimes they don't listen. Other times they tell us all religions teach us to be good. But in the end, that piece of knowledge is so crucial and so valuable. If we know that we are children of God, we know that we come from someone who is divine. We know we have a bright future. I’ve seen that as I have taught and invited. Elder Jensen has real power when he invites. It seems like he speaks straight from his heart. Also with him, I have seen how all of the sudden, I feel way comfortable talking with everyone.

Each and EVERY one of my companions has been SUCH a blessing to me. I've seen how we can really make a difference even if it's only to the companion we are with. I've also seen how God works in the lives of his children one by one. The members in Thailand are just like that. They all have a story that's unique and special as to how they found the Church and stayed active. I think, however, the most important lesson I've learned is how much of an influence the things my own parents did for me made.

Serving a mission has been the greatest decision I ever made in my life. Hands down. I've changed drastically and I will never be the same person again. That's just the facts. I've seen how everything in my life is different. First of all, I feel healthier. Second of all, I speak and read Thai (who would have guessed that one) but most of all, I feel the happiest and closest to God I've ever felt. It's great. I can't explain. In Thai we say I explain incorrectly. That's the way I feel. Anyway, I'm doing great. I don't have much to report from this week besides just remember the difference we can make. Each and every one of us has something we can do to change someone's life today. So don't just sit around, go out and do it!

I love you lots and pray for you always,

With Love,

Elder Jacob Newman