Half wonderful year

Dear everybody,

I think that it’s pretty much established now by this point that I never know what week I’m on. And I wish I could say I cared enough to really dial down and check to make sure, but we’ve been super busy these week meeting tons of people (and by tons, I mean by our mission standards), so it leaves no free time for me to go all the way back to August and count. It’s a good thing though.

One of the things that I read in a book somewhere was that an ordinary missionary “counts the time,” meaning that he/she knows exactly how long they’ve been out and how much longer until they finish. Not that that’s a bad thing. But the difference between that and an extraordinary missionary is that while one “counts the time”, the other “makes the time count”. An extraordinary missionary could also know how long he/she has been out and how long he/she has left, but that knowledge fills them with a sense of urgency, to get done the things that they know the Lord needs them to get done in the short time that they have in that area. If only that was the only thing it took to be an extraordinary missionary haha.
I’m by no means calling myself extraordinary. There’s so much more I need to learn and get better at. But that feeling that my time here is limited is real, and I can definitely say that I am feeling that sense of urgency. Elder Dat is halfway through his training, and once he’s all trained by the end of this next 6 weeks, who knows where I’ll ship out to next? In light of this possibility, I’ve felt this need to drive myself hard to make a difference in the Thao Dien area and ultimately leave it better than it was when I came. It’s not for the sake of my own personal satisfaction, but to truly help as many people here come closer to Christ. If I can transfer out of this area with no regrets, knowing that I worked my hardest, that’s all the personal satisfaction I need. I talked a little bit about this need to work harder in my last email, so I’ll follow up with what we’ve been able to do this week.
This week we had a TON of opportunities to meet and minister to the members in our area. The week was filled with dinner appointments, after which we were able to share spiritual messages with the member families that are focused around getting them to do their own missionary work, both to help out the missionaries here find people to teach and strengthen their own testimonies. The teacher is the best learner after all. We also had the opportunity to give blessings to other people in need to help them with the new year. This was the first times Elder Dat got to participate in giving a blessing, and it was a good experience for him to really feel the Spirit.
The times where I felt the Spirit the most this week were unique in a sense. We went over to eat at a member’s home this last Friday. He doesn’t live in Vietnam, but he’s visiting with his wife (who’s Vietnamese and a devout Catholic) for the Tet season so that she can reunite with her family. He’s pretty cool in the sense that whenever he travels, he makes an effort to get in contact with the missionaries and have them over, which was what happened with us. Another interesting thing about him is that he’s less-active in the church, he smokes, he drinks, he has tattoos, all his children are also inactive members of the Church, and he’s been divorced at least once. Besides those things, he’s just seen a lot of what life has to offer, good and bad. In spite of his struggles and obvious imperfections in following standards of righteousness that Christ has set forth, he has one of the strongest testimonies I’ve ever seen. No amount of smoking or alcohol or bad life experience has dimmed this man’s testimony of Christ and the truthfulness of this Church. You could clearly see he was uncomfortable when his wife told us missionaries of the things he’s struggling with, and I don’t know how the Church dealt with his behavior, but he’s solid in his faith. In a way, I admire him much more than I would an average member of the church who strives to do everything right and follows the commadments with exactness. Would I ever want myself or my future children to be like him? No. But it takes a special kind of person to have gone through what he’s gone through and do what he does, and still have his faith. I wouldn’t call it a true conversion, but it’s a unique conversion.
The other time I felt the Spirit strongest this week was a small little act. Elder Dat and I were biking up and over this huge bridge in our area when we came across an older man trying to push this giant cart up the bridge. Elder Dat and I decided to get off our bikes and help him push it the rest of the way up. As we pushed, I can imagine it must have been a strange sight. An older guy sweating and dirty pushing a giant cart, helped along by 2 young men in white shirts and ties (one of whom is an American I might add), holding their bikes in one hand and helping push with the other. Every single person that passed us by gave us the funniest looks, but I couldn’t stop smiling. There’s something in these small, impromptu acts of service that makes me feel, in a way, even better than when I’m out teaching people. Service epitomizes the principle of “teaching people, not lessons”, and my love for these people grows the most when I serve them.
I hope everyone has a fantastic week and I love being able to share my experiences with you all every week. Unfortunately, there’s no picture for this one cause I left my camera at another missionary’s apartment during a 24 hour exchange. I’ll send pictures next week!
Love, Elder Phan

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