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Monday, December 26, 2011

Week 61: Skyping with Elder Griffin


This is Dad (Andy) typing. We got to Skype with AJ on Christmas. For the uninitiated, Skype is a video phone call over the internet. The video can be a little choppy and AJ's camera in the Philippines was low-res (kinda pixelated), but it was cool to SEE AJ and his companion and it was absolutely FREE!

What a wonderful and positive experience! AJ is doing well and we even got to chat a little with his Filipino comp, Elder Valdez. The conversation was long (2 hours) and very uplifting for everyone. There were eight or 10 missionaries at the computer rental store that AJ was at, including the zone leaders of the Alicia Zone. I'm sure there were a couple of instances when we made AJ homesick, but mostly it was just an enjoyable time with lots of laughing, smiling and even some teasing (AJ's developed quite a Philippine accent). Here are some of the highlights:

AJ had sent us a box that arrived about three weeks ago and we have kept it under our Christmas tree, unopened, since then. He thought it would be cool if we opened it while he was on Skype, so we waited a few more hours until our Skype call. So a few minutes after 8 p.m. (AJ was about an hour late from when he said he would be on) we busted open the box and it was loaded with trinkets, clothes and crafts from the Philippines. The prize of the package was a portrait of our family that an artist in Aritao (AJ's last area) had painted. This was the same artist that had done the painting of AJ and Elder Balaich on the bridge battling demons. It was very well done. We are going to frame it and display it proudly in our home.

It was a good thing that we waited until he was “there” to open the package as a lot of things needed explanation. He sent the webbing for three hammocks (we have two trees and they are not close together). He also sent a huge amount of wood-carved figurines and masks, including a Nativity and some caribao. He also included a set of three machetes (different sizes), wind chimes, knock-off NBA jerseys (wrong team colors) and some other wooden items (flutes, fans, animals and a back-scratcher for Dad).

Admittedly, the conversation was a little stilted and awkward at first as we got used to the “new” AJ and his funny accent (he rolls all his R's!). But as we got comfortable, it seemed we had a million things to say to each other and little time to say them all.

AJ expounded on his Dengue Fever experience. “It kicked my butt for about a month. I had a rash and my hands were all swollen and I just couldn't go. I had no energy.” He said he would start feeling better and they would go teach or something and by the time they were done, he was completely exhausted and could hardly move. He also said the accompanying rash was miserable as well.

AJ said most of his companions have been really great. His time with Elder Lim was incredibly frustrating, though. He said Lim was extremely lazy, but worse than that was he was “just plain mean.” Elder Valdez chimed in and said that Lim “did not want to be a missionary.”

One of the themes that AJ's conversation had was the fact that he is now realizing that his mission is “kinda po-dunk.” He said that the Cauayan Mission is located out in the middle of nowhere and the people are incredibly poor, very humble and kind of isolated. He said Cauayan is kind of the “Idaho of the Philippines.” Our apologies to all you spud-heads out there. I would have gone with Montana or North Dakota.

AJ said they caught another rat: “This one bigger than all the others combined.” He also said there are still several more and they have gotten wise to the traps. Besides the rats, he said his apartment is pretty nice. He also said they saw the A.P. (assistant to the president) apartment and it is “like being in America,” with a hot shower and a washing machine. “Plus they get to drive around in a nice new blue Ford Ranger.” He said he does not aspire to be an AP, though, because you don't get to do as much missionary work. Plus, “driving in the Philippines would be insane.”

It was a little odd in that his computer camera was fixed and mounted on the side of the screen, so for him to look at us, he had to look away from the camera (and vice-versa). So while we could see him for two hours, he rarely looked at us. We got to know the side of his face very well ;-)

When the other missionaries started wrapping up their Skype calls, we could tell AJ was getting antsy and we needed to let him go. But it was such a positive experience. There were no tears. Only smiles and virtual hugs and kisses.

He said they mostly worked on Christmas and Christmas eve, spending just two hours at the mission home. That made me proud, but also a little sad. After all, it is nice to be pampered and appreciated on the holidays.

President Carlos arranged for all the missionaries to get special letters from their families on Christmas morning and AJ said the ones we sent him were very touching. President Carlos and his wife made special stockings for all the Elders and Sisters.

The more we hear about the Pres. And Sis. Carlos, the more we have grown to love and appreciate them. Every parent of every Elder should have a mission President and mission Mom like them.

AJ is healthy and happy and seems to have had a great Christmas. I remember feeling so lonely on my first Christmas on my mission (I kinda had a dud comp at the time). But he seems to be doing well and is working hard. We miss him a lot, but are so happy that he is there and doing the Lord's work.

Thanks to all who read this blog. AJ expressed appreciation to all of you and said that any letters or thoughts you send are greatly obliged.

Merry Christmas everyone, from the Philippines and from Washington, Utah!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Week 60: Who ya gonna call? Ratbusters!


Elders Valdez and Griffin at the Cauayan Mission Home.
AJ: Whazuppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp?!?!
DAD: What's going on, young feller? You ready for Christmas?
AJ: Yep, got the Christmas package this week. We killed 3 rats this week. We are p-daying in Cauayan for the first time ever. Life is good.
DAD: Wow, got a package AND killed three rats. SWEET!!!
AJ: Oh yeah, and we had to take a report to the mission office. President and Sister Carlos saw us and gave us a sausage & egg thingy and grapes and CHERRY DR PEPPER and brownies and stuff.
DAD: Dude, U R livin' LARGE! Plus, we get to talk next week!
AJ: Yeah! Next week we are planning on SKYPING Monday at 10 a.m. here. What time is that in Utah? Christmas day in the evening?
DAD: Let's see, it is 9:15 right now here. Is it 11:15 or 12:15 there?
AJ: 12:15.
DAD: OK, so you are 15 hours ahead of us. So if you go 10 a.m. there, it will be 7 p.m. here on Christmas night. Have you scouted out a good spot and everything? Do you need to re-install Skype? How much time will you have?
AJ: Yeah we just found a good computer shop in Cauayan and there is a really nice one in Santiago, too. President didn't say anything about how much time.
DAD: You hear about the typhoon that killed all those people in southern Philippines?
AJ: I heard about it from Sister Carlos earlier and a few people talked about it.
DAD: OK, well we will plan on 7 p.m. here Sunday night. Last time we talked, you were with Elder Lim and not a very happy camper, as I recall.
AJ: Oh, and I have a sick video for you.
DAD: What's the video of?  You gonna send it tonight?
video
AJ: (Sends video) You watch the vid?
DAD: Yeah, we watched it. I might post it on Facebook for fun! You get two rats in a row there?
AJ: Yeah, it was awesome!
DAD: You are too funny! Lovin' busting those rat heads, eh?
AJ: I showed President and Sister Carlos. They loved it – haha. President is the one that brought us the traps on Thursday.
DAD: Wish you coulda seen BYU Saturday. They were big-time. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies, Charles Abuou, Brock Zylstra and Matt (Little Jimmer) Carlino is a smokin' hot line-up.
AJ: Haha – yeah President already told me all about it earlier this morning – haha. He got a sweet BYU tie for Christmas he was wearing earlier.
DAD: Ha, just posted your vid on Facebook.
AJ: Sweet!! Shoot, I've been writing a letter to President for 15 mins and the computer just died. Also, there is a white dude here in the computer shop from Sweden. He is like 20-something. He doesn't know Tagalog and his English is kinda weird.
DAD: Sorry, don't know any Swedish,except the meatballs, so I can't help you. So you lost your letter again? That stinks. Poor guy.
AJ: Yeah, I was almost done, darn it. The guy is like a skinny, tall kind of pretty boy dude with blonde, almost white, hair. He sticks out as bad as I do, probably. He has a girl with him. I don't think she is a Filipina. She is brown, though, but doesn't speak Tagalog. I asked him why they were here, but I didn't really get an answer. He's never seen missionaries, he said, or the church.
DAD: Weird ... to be there of all places. Does he look like a businessman type or a student or what?
AJ: He looks like a teenager – haha. The girl looks kind of like a Filipino, but they were just speaking Swedish.
DAD: Very strange, indeed.
AJ: Computer tried to destroy the letter again, but I was able to save it this time. BTW, happy birthday KATIE!!!!
The birthday girl.
DAD: Yep, she's in bed, but she is pretty excited! She is 10 on Wednesday. Growing up fast.
AJ: I am excited for you to open the package. There is some sweet stuff in there.
DAD: We haven't even peeked, although I have been tempted. Did you open yours already?
AJ: Yeah, I had to – cough cough – open it, cuz the rats – ahem – might eat the food inside. Hehe, so, ya know, I had too ... It was for the the salvation of the package.
DAD: Turkey -- now what are you going to open on Christmas? Well, did you like what we sent?
AJ: Man, I had to, or it was rat food! Haha – I haven't used the shoes yet. We have presents still from Grandma that aren't open yet. Yeah, I am super excited for the Velveeta mix. I am going to go look for Doritos later!
DAD: I got you a couple of clothes items that we will send after Christmas, plus a surprise. Call it Christmas in January (or Feb., depending on how long it takes).
AJ: Sick! Maybe you should wait to open the package til I am there on the Skype? Or is that too much torture?
DAD: That would be kinda fun. I'll have to see if the rest of the fam is up for waiting that long. Your sisters will be the hardest.
AJ: Depends on you, either way. I understand if they want to just open it up  as well.
DAD: We can probably wait. That will be fun.
AJ: Gotta run, peace! Love YA!!!!
DAD: K, talk at ya next week!
AJ: We are blowing this taco stand!

WEEKLY LETTER
Hello and Merry Christmas!

Well another week has flown by and things are looking a lot like Christmas in the Philippines! It's been raining for like 3 days now. And last night I was cold for the first time, except from being cold a few times when the air conditioner was too strong at the church or bus, but that doesn't count right? Anyway, last night it was raining and I didn't have an umbrella and it was actually a little cold. All the locals were freezing and kept saying this must be what it is like in America and stuff. But yeah, it was a little bit cold. Weird, eh?

So this week we had a great week of finding as we found some super really cool families and got some super cool referrals from the ward as well. They are all pretty new but they have some great potentiality.

We have one cool investigator that is doing really great. His wife is a member and they are newlyweds. Rarjay is about 20-ish and hadn't come to church because he was shy because he didn't have shoes. But we got him shoes and he came this Sunday. We taught him Word of Wisdom and he only had a problem with coffee. He wasn't sure if he could do it, so we challenged him to cut in half every day and he is doing so. He still had a bit of coffee left so he agreed if we brought him Milo (basically hot chocolate), he would stop coffee for good. So we are bringing him some Milo later. He seemed to have a good time at church and the ward did a good job making him feel welcome and he has been reading. If things continue, he should be getting baptized on Jan. 21.

On Thursday while I was on splits in Angandan (other side of alicia), President Carlos came and gave us some great rat and mouse traps. So far, we have 3 kills. We saw a huge one, though, but he seems to be too smart to go for the peanut butter on the trap. Is there any type of food we could use that rats can't pass up?

So, about splits: I went with Elder Zeigler from Arizona in his area. He is 3 months in the mission and among the first batch in the new training program. He is a stud and I learned a ton from him. Most of our appointments got punted, but we did some cool tracting and I got to meet their investigators that are close to being baptized and who I will interview in a few weeks, probably.

We have really been focusing on finding families and so I have been trying to talk with the people if I see a husband and a wife together (even better if there are kids, too). So the first day I started doing it this week, the very first husband and wife I see we walk past then I am like, Oh! That’s a  mom and dad, and I turn around and start talking to them (we were on a little side road). I am like, hey we are missionaries. We are teaching about Jesus and stuff. Then they are like, ah, well here is our pastor, and with them just a bit ahead is their pastor (I don't know what religion) and he comes over to us and is like, “HEY! You have a problem?” (in English).

So I was like, No, uh, we just wanted to give you something to read (restoration pamphlet) and I try to hand it to the couple and he snatches it before they can grab it. Then, for like the next 10 minutes goes off about how we don’t teach about the real Jesus and that we are liars and the church is false. I try to testify and he won't even let us talk.

Then he goes off, saying that all Filipinos are dumb and don’t read the Bible and will believe anything white people tell them.

At that point, I am like, all right, let's go! But he won't let us go and Elder Valdez wants to still say stuff. I am like, let's go! Then Elder Valdez finally says a little bit and I am like, oh well, we gotta go. Then I am like, here is a pamphlet for you, too (to the couple). He snatches it also and says NO YOU WONT!

Then we start leaving and he is like, DON’T LEAVE, I am not done! And keeps saying all this anti-Christ type stuff and then we just leave. I've never felt the spirit leave so fast. Gosh.

But then we left and the next couple we saw like five minutes later we talked to and taught them and the spirit came back so strongly. We found a bunch of new families to teach that day, too. It was like Night and Day, the difference. I guess the trial always comes before the blessings (Ether 12). Reminds me of a letter from President Carlos when he talked about before Joseph Smith received the first vision the devil almost got him. Wow. That’s all I can say. Elder Valdez said those really cool families all were really awesome on Sunday when they taught them (we were on splits with members).

Tracting is super exhausting and hard and not fun, but at the same time, it's super exhilarating looking for the elect and knowing you could change lives and find someone you knew and maybe even promised to find from the pre-existence. I love tracting, but it's hard, too. I probably wouldn’t like it as much in America or Europe.

Well, I am super excited to talk to you next week. I know the church is true. I miss you a ton, but I wouldn’t pick to be anywhere else in the world than right here!
Thanks for everything. Hope you have a great Christmas and we’ll talk to you next week!!!!

Love,
A.J.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Week 59: Cowboys and Filipinos


AJ: Hey, how's it going?! Merry Christmas.
DAD: Hey, you're on early. It's halftime and Cowboys lead Giants 17-15.
AJ: Hey, tell happy birthday to Holly!
DAD: Yep, she is in kitchen with Mom making a yummy Oreo ice cream cake.
AJ: Sweet! Oreo ice cream cake masarap.
 
Eighth birthday for Holly (in the middle)

DAD: She wanted to help Mommy with her own cake.
AJ: It's Holly's birthday already here. Hey you got any new pics lately?
DAD: Let me try and send some from my phone. What about you?
(we exchange pix)
AJ: Ah, oh yeah, I got your pix. Thanks! Cool. Oh, and rumor on the street is that people close to the mission home get to have Christmas and maybe New Year's eve at the mission home. I've never been close to the mission home until now – haha.
DAD:Wouldn't that be nice, get a little taste of home around the holidays. I hear Sis. Carlos is a great cook, too.
AJ: Yeah, she wrote some cook books. I saw them! She is an amazing cook.
DAD: I bet she enjoys feeding all you boys, too.
AJ: It's probably hard for her, not having all the ingredients she wants here.
DAD:
Yeah, that's true, although that Save More has a lot of stuff doesn't it? BTW, Cowboys up 27-22, early 4th quarter, Giants driving …
AJ: Is Felix Jones any good nowadays? Or Miles Austin?
DAD: Austin just caught a TD pass, but he's been out a month with a leg injury. YEAHHHHHHHH!
COWBOYS JUST GOT AN INTERCEPTION. Dallas ball, 7 min left.
AJ: I've only been to the nice Save More once and it's been almost a year so -- I can't remember. The one in Viscaya is way smaller. It is way better than other grocery stores here, but still isn't as cool as America. And sampre – no milk.
DAD: DEZ BRYANT 50 yard TD from ROMO, Cowboys up 34-22
AJ: Turn out the lights, the party is over!
DAD: Romo is playing great! Cowboys will be 2 games up with three left in the NFC East if they can hold on.
AJ: I am so out of it. I thought the Cowboys were bad. I don't know anything about BYU either. High school basketball probably has started by now, too.
DAD: Yeah , I mentioned HS hoops in my letter. BYU hoops is good, they are 7-2, lost to USU in Logan and No. 5 Wisconsin. Beat the Utes by 20 Saturday, but Utah is pretty lousy.
AJ: Dang it! BYU always loses to USU. They need to cut that out.
DAD:
Giants scored quick, now 34-29 with three minutes left. Dallas needs two 1st downs.
AJ: Wild game, huh?
DAD: Uh oh, Cowboys have to punt, Giants ball with 2:12 left, killing me – agh!
AJ: Gosh. The Cowboys always let people back into the game.
DAD: Giants at 1-yard line.
AJ: Grabi (holy cow)!
DAD: Giants up 37-34 with 46 sec left and kicking off, Dallas no time outs ... it don't look good.
Blocked kick saves game for Giants.
AJ: Oh no.
DAD: Romo gets it down to field goal range -- 42 yarder to tie and get OT -- kick blocked, giants win, CRAP!
AJ: Boo!! By they way we are here in Santiago. Wooden and his comp just walked in here in the computer shop.
DAD: Major bummer with the Cowboys. Romo had a great game, but missed a wide open Miles Austin in the final moments that would have won the game, overthrew it by five yards. Oh well, it's only a game, right?
AJ: Super Bummer!
DAD: Mom and the boys went to bed.
AJ: We gotta leave, too. Love ya! We are going to MACDOS with Wooden!
DAD: Bye son, love u!
WEEKLY LETTER

Dear Family!

Merry Christmas!

So we had a baptism this week! I only taught him like 3 times but it's still cool! He is a stud. Elmer Limon is his name (see picture!). He has been going to seminary for 6 months to a year. He said his family isn't really interested, but his mom listens sometimes and she came to the baptism, which was really cool. We will keep trying to teach his family. We have a lot of cool newlywed part-member families that seem pretty cool. We have a lot of current investigators, plus a lot of new ones. Just trying to get people to church.


So yesterday was Elder Valdez's birthday. He turned 20. We bought a big cake and he made fruit salad (not really fruit salad like we know, but fruit with cream and tons of condensada [sweetened condensed milk]) and we gave some to the young men and our dinner appointment. By the way, we got a super cool referral from them last night (the Ramos family).

Oh, I have a funny story. So my last P-day with Elder Wooden, we had just played football and I had a decent cut on my knee, plus it was covered in mud. So I was sitting on the steps at the bank while Elder Wooden was getting money from the ATM and I was pouring alcohol on my cut, trying to get rid of the dirt and stuff. This bank dude in Tagalog asks what happened. I say, “Oh, we were just playing football and I got a cut,” in Tagalog. Then he pauses for a second and then says really loud in English "THAT'S DISGUSTING!" and then walks off. I was shocked. I was like, Wow, thanks dude.” hahahahaha. It was pretty funny.

Tuesday I had my first ever district meeting with me running the show. It was about the divine companionship and the spirit. I mostly used a talk of Elder Hollands that he gave in the mission president's seminar. We played a 3-legged race and turned it into an object lesson and I brought lots of candy. Then we practiced teaching with more unity. Elder Holland says every 1 or 2 minutes a question should be asked, testimony borne, scripture used or a switch to the other companion made. It was a lot less stressful than I thought it would be. Elder and Sister Breese (the senior couple in this area) were really helpful and gave lots of great insights. But it was hard to teach in straight English. I screwed up my English a few times and kept wanting to just speak Taglish. Haha. I haven't had a baptismal interview yet, but I probably will have some on Saturday, I think.

Elder Valdez is pretty cool. He is from Laguna, Sta Rosa, about an hour out of Manila. He is pretty funny and I have learned tons of Tagalog from him. He is pure Tagalog (no other dialects). For his birthday I gave him a wooden snake from Banaue and some movies (Joseph Smith, Legacy, Mountain of the Lord and stuff). He was super excited for the cake and stuff.

We cleaned up our apartment and it looks really good now. There was so much garbage and stuff. It's sweet now, though, but still has lots of rats. Haha

It's been really rainy and really cool this week. A few days it really poured hard.

When you first get transferred in a area, everybody always asks what area you are in and how long you have been out. It's my fourth area now and I've been out for over a year (including the MTC). Everybody is always like, “Ah! malapit na!” (It's close) like you've been out a long time. I feel like I am still new sometimes. It doesn't feel like I have been out that long. Time is really on a different scale here on the mission!

Well, I have loved my mission so far and would advise all young men to prepare! It's been so awesome. I have seen miracles and met people that I know I was meant to find! I am a lot different and better person than I was before and I know that this work is true!

It absolutely is thrilling and exciting to go tracting and know that you could change someone's life and eternity! This is the greatest work ever! And I am glad the Lord wants me to be a part of it.

The church is true!
A.J.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Week 58: New area, new comp, new calling


AJ: Kamusta. Are ya there?
DAD: Barely awake ... how ya doing?
AJ: Pretty good. We played football again this time in Alicia. I didn't get transferred to Echague. I got transferred to a part of Alicia itself called Paddad. It's a sick branch – they are studs. And I am district leader over the Alicia district.
DAD: Whoa, they changed their mind and sent you elsewhere, huh? Where is that from Cauayan? Glad you're DL. How's that working out?
AJ: I don't know if they switched it at the last second or if President Carlos meant Alicia Zone. He just said Elder Wooden would know a lot about where I am going. Then I said Echague and he said yep. So I don't know, maybe it got switched. It's the top part of Alicia zone. It's like 25 mins from Cauayan and an hour from Santiago. We are allowed to go to both on P-day. I saw Elder Wooden as well earlier at football. As far as DL goes, I had I short little meeting on Saturday with the ZLs and I am have been preparing for district meeting. It's gonna be about the divine companionship. In my district is 4 sisters. Oh yeah, so they have this new 12 week special study program for new missionaries. Then, if it works out right, the trainee trains a new missionary at the end of twelve weeks. So there is one American elder in my district, 12 weeks long in the mission and he is training. And then they said that one of the senior couples always comes to district meeting. So now I have to teach in English, dang it.
DAD: Well, we can't have you forgetting English, can we? You'll be speaking a lot in church in English when you come home next year. That sounds crazy that they would have a greenie train another newbie so soon. I'm not sure I dig that at all. How far away do the older couples live from you. It would be nice if one of them took care of you like grandma and g-pa took care of elders in New Jersey.
AJ: I don't know, I think they are in Cauayan. There is supposed to be 2 couples assigned to mostly work with the wards in Roxas and supposedly the sisters and ZLs apartment are on the same street. I really wanted to teach Taglish in district meeting. It's gonna be hard.
DAD: It will be good for you. You can't have forgotten that much, right? You have a lifetime of knowledge to draw from. Just have to remember ...
AJ: The English is all right, I just don't really know how to teach in English. Before my mission I didn't know how to teach and the whole time I've been here, I have been teaching in Tagalog, so it'll just be harder. Plus it's not just other missionaries there, there is a senior couple. That's way more scary.
DAD: I bet those senior missionaries will be really helpful. Just think of them being like g-ma and g-pa. I got to talk about you a little in church today. They wanted me to do an update. Plus we talked about family home evening and I told them that one of the blessings of having a missionary is that we get to read your letters to the kids for family night each week.
AJ: Yeah, they are super nice, but it's still more harder. Is that right? Ha-ha. This ward is unreal though. We have dinner appointments like every night and lunch sometimes, too. They had PEC Meeting and everyone knelt for the prayers at PEC. And they are super helpful and it's great. And like most of the people were on time for Sacrament Meeting. Church went til like 12:30. I think they like extra church. I don't know. Sister Carlos said this is one of the highest percentage tithe paying branches in the mission – 90 + of active members, she said. And there are tons of 18 & 19 year old kids that work with us and are preparing for missions. They were all calling the mission home paddad (zion).
DAD: Wow, sounds really great. I wish our ward was that good. Now that I am clerk I get to see everyone's tithing and go to bishopric meeting and find out all the dirt on everyone. Not so much fun. I was at church from 7 a.m. to about 3 today. Too much church!
AJ: Man, I am tired now. We have this new way to write president every week and I just wrote a whole thing to him and it failed and it's all gone. I don't want to write anymore. You're not getting letter this week, sorry – haha
DAD: That would ruin our family night!!! I always control-A and then control-C before I send an important letter so that I can paste it if it fails. Always do that with my D-News stories
AJ: Yeah, well I forgot. I am so over writing right now – haha.
DAD: Don't you have a sent folder or something it might have gone into?
AJ: Na, it is just in this little type box on another site. It's not real email ...
DAD: Ugh, so I guess you have tons to do. Hey, you didn't tell us about your new comp. Filipino or American?
AJ: Filipino. Elder Valdez is my new comp. He is 6 months in the mission. He is from the same ward that Elder Fantony was in – Laguna, which is like an hour away from Manila. He is cool. He wants to go to America really bad.
DAD: Maybe he is small enough to fit in your suitcase when you come home, haha
AJ: I told him that – all he said is he wants you to send him beef jerky. Yeah pretty random, eh?
DAD: Beef jerky, huh? Well, like peppered, or teriyaki or hot or bbq? Come on Valdez, which kind you want?
AJ: Manghang daw, I mean, he said he wants hot!
DAD: Nice.
AJ: I am just kidding about the letter. I am really writing one – haha
DAD:
I figured u were joking ... your mama would be sad :-(
AJ:
Oh, I got the Region wrap-up magazine and the Reeses with Bottlecaps! Good stuff! I gave those old magazines that I finished already to Elder Katao. He was stoked! DAD: Glad you got the envelope one. Hope the other one gets there by Christmas. We will send another envelope one, too. I think mom forgot to send the shave oil. It should last a long time, just use like five drops per shave.
AJ: Yeah I just barely finished 1 bottle and started the other. I figure with one or two I'll have shaving kwan til St. George.
DAD: Kwan? Like covered, taken care of?
AJ: Haha, kwan is just a word they use all the time for anything you can't think of. Like where is what's-his-face or can you hand me that whatchamacallit. Like that – haha
DAD: Good letter. You will find that most of your life prayers are answered through other people. But you have to look for them ...
AJ: Ooo for sure. All right we are bouncing, love ya. Merry Christmas.
DAD: LOVE YOU, talk next week, be good!
WEEKLY LETTER
Hello family,

So I got transferred, and here I am in Paddad, which is a part of Alicia, just a 30-peso ride away from Cauayan. So I got a new companion as well, Elder Valdez, and I am a brand new district leader here in Alicia District.

We have a really nice apartment, however it has a few problems. It is super nice and has fake carpet in one room and an air conditioner in one room. However, it has a terrible rat problem and it was totally trashed from the elders that just went home. Apparently they decided on their last day to come and throw an insane party. It was bad. So, needless to say, we cleaned up first thing. The rats own the kitchen, but they pretty much stay away from where we sleep, so anything good we put in the fridge. Anyway it's not been too much of a problem and in future we are supposed to be getting some cool rat traps. The apartment is really nice though, just been neglected. It also has a microwave and blender.

This ward is unreal. We have dinner appointment like every night and lunch sometimes. They are super helpful and it's great. And like most of the people were on time for church. Church went til like 12:30. Cool Eh?

So my new companion is Elder Valdez From Laguna and he is pure Tagalog (no dialects). He is from Santa Rosa and he is from the same ward as Elder Fantony. He is hard-working and seems pretty cool. I taught him how to play football, then we played with the AP's and others. He played for a while, but then after, he said he didn't understand how to score.

Oh, and so here in Alicia at the Angandan chapel there is sweet grass field. It's the greatest field I have seen in the Philippines. It was huge and well kept and not too muddy. It was awesome. Also, I saw a tennis court and a volleyball court in Alicia. Maybe Alicia is the place to be if you like sports.

So on Saturday we had a cool experience. We had an appointment with this family I hadn't met yet, but that Elder Valdez was super excited about. They are really cool. Anyway, we had planned and practiced a couple times to teach them about the plan of salvation. But when we got there, the dad had questions about baptism and stuff and we both knew we had to throw out the plan and then it just entered into my mind and I knew without a doubt that we had to read 2 Nephi 31 with them. It was a super powerful lesson and we were able to resolve their concerns.

I know the church is true and that God answers prayers. I used to think God would just say immediately answers, but more often he answers my prayers through other people or through the scriptures. I know that this work is true and am so happy to be a part of it. Last week, it kind of hit me that a whole year of my mission is history. I know I did my best and gave it my all, but it's still sad that time is flying so incredibly fast. It's like Wow.

So with the time left, I want to give it my all and I don't want to waste a minute. The church is true!

Love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A.J.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Week 57: Bye Wooden, hello DL!


AJ's package made it to Utah in about a month
AJ: naimbug nga rabbi yu (is that you, father?)
DAD: Bodote skedeet nat n waddap an chu (gibberish)
AJ: Whats up?! You got the package already?! Can you send me a picture of it? Does it have a billion stamps on it?
DAD: Just sent a pic with my phone. Is there any reason we should open it before Christmas. Anything in there we should get out. Something kinda sharp is poking thru a little in one corner.
AJ: Um, Yeah, that's a machete. Surprised they let it through with a knife sticking out. I didn't say what's for who, so you might want to split it up evenly. But it might be more fun just to wait til Christmas. There is stuff for everyone, I just didn't really sort it up. Just be careful when you open it – up on the top is a picture, so be careful not to cut it up. On the bottom are the machetes. One of them doesn't have its cover on because it wouldn't fit. You all decide. I don't know.
DAD: It was just the very tip sticking out in the corner. I think it will be fun to open at Christmas. We sent you a package last week and the envelope one from a few weeks ago should be there soon. Good news: shoes are on the way!
AJ: How was thanksgiving?
DAD: Turkey day was great. Lotsa food, although I was sore all day after two hours of football.
AJ: By the way, Tuesday was the last day I was feeling lousy. Wednesday til now I have felt great! We just got done with the greatest football game the Philippines has ever seen!
DAD: So glad u feel better. Dallas started feeling good about Wednesday as well. We had a pretty epic FB game on Thanksgiving as well. I got to play QB the whole time for our team. About 18 Elders and young men showed up on the turf farm. I probably threw 10 TDs and four picks. Not as good as last year, but Brock Rasmussen plays a mean safety. He got me a couple of times.
AJ: So the A.P.'s came down from Cauayan. Elder Hale from SLC valley and Elder Katoa from Dixie High and they took us to this place we went in the past that's kind of far away, but it has a big field. The only problem, it's been a wet week and it was a mud pit. We were slipping all over the place. We were all muddy head to toe. It was insanely fun. Funnest football experience since America. Part way through, someone had a super bad idea. Mud tackle football! So we ended up playing tackle football for about 30 mins. It was so stinkin' fun!
DAD: UH oh, tackle football is definitely against mission rules. I know, cause it was when we used to play tackle football in 1985. Hopefully no one got hurt?! Mud football is extremely fun. Glad you had a good time. You deserved it after being sick for two weeks.
AJ: Yeah definitely against the rules. But it was the APs and Zls idea, so everyone played dumb and followed blindly – haha. No, no one got hurt. Everyone got skinned knees and stuff from before we started playing tackle. Katoa is such a beast though. He is just pure muscle gosh ... Did you meet him?
DAD: What's his first name? I know Isaac Katoa played at Pine View. There were several Katoas in the region -- all studs.
AJ: Yeah, when I was sick if it was a good day we would go to like one appointment and mostly Wooden would teach – I was a wreck. Bill is what Katoa's name is. He is a super nice guy – class act. I think he must've been a stud in HS too. I think he played LB or S.
AJ: Oh, hey – Baptism! MacMac is the teenager on the Left. He is super awesome! It was a great baptism. Even started on time. And his buddy baptized him, so double bonus!
DAD: Cool about the baptism. Amazing that you got it done considering you had been sick so much. I can't believe how little those boys are next to you and Wooden! Short, but also so very thin. They must weigh 90 pounds.
AJ: Yeah, that's how they all are pretty much. Sometimes we see Filipinos that are over 6 feet tall, but they are still skinny as bones – don't have a muscle on them.
DAD: If you started a football league there, you could be the Terrell Owens of it and score at will.
AJ: Or a basketball league too. It'd be more entertaining then Lebron's 3 on 3 strike tourney right?
DAD: BTW, they ended the strike yesterday.
AJ: I have no desire to watch NBA again. A bunch of babies. The Jazz don't have D-Will anyway. I'll just be a BYU fan. That's garbage …
DAD: Yeah, Jazz are gonna be lousy anyway. Devin Harris, Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward, with Ty Corbin as coach. It's like they are trying to channel their inner Minnesota Timberwolves.
AJ: So President Carlos paid us a visit this week ...
DAD: Oh yeah, what did Pres. have to say?
AJ: A lot of random stuff – then he said "Elder Griffin, you haven't been working very hard, so we are going to transfer you and make you district leader." Then he told Wooden he better get ready cuz he is senior next week to a fairly new Filipino. We were like, “Ah dang, we got a lot of work to do.”
DAD: NICE, DL! That's cool. You'll have to practice some of that tact and leadership you learned as a boy scout. Haha -- you'll be great! Taylor was just transferred and made DL as well. I never made ZL, just DL and trainer a couple times. Trainer was the best.
AJ: Yeah, it'll be fun but it's gonna be hard. I am not very good at teaching in the classroom setting. I guess I'll be practicing. I heard interviewing can be pretty awesome sometimes when you meet some of the other missionaries' way cool converts. It'll be good. President said Elder Wooden knows a lot about my new area. I am taking over his old area in Alicia Zone – in a town called Echague. I heard I will be living with the zone leaders and I think I know my companion. I don't know him, I just heard it's a newer hard-working Filipino. This is all not for sure til Thursday. I will miss Elder Wooden. We had a good time. Before I got sick, we were playing ball 3 times a week and we had a lot of good times together. He was super disappointed we weren't staying together for Christmas. I was, too.
DAD: Wow, big changes. Sounds like Pres. Carlos like what you're doing, though.
Pres. and Sister Carlos
AJ: Oh, so apparently President knows about the blog. He says the funniest things. I can't remember what he was talking about, but he was like, “Hey, you can go put that on your blog.” haha.
DAD: What a stud he is. I guess he is cool with us conversing via email. We read his wife's blog all the time, too. I wonder if he checks yours every week, or if he even has time or cares?
AJ: Oh yeah, and president brought us a bag of cookies and a Hershey's Bar. Cool eh? I think he Facebooks, too, to see who is using their Facebooks – haha. Seems like I've heard stories about that. Do you email him every week?
DAD: I've never emailed him – oh you mean to tell them about the blog. Mom might, I just post on my Facebook that it is updated. We haven't even touched your FB the whole time. I don't think Mom sends an email to them.
AJ: No I am pretty sure he ALREADY knows about the blog!
DAD: Well, good thing you are a good missionary and have nothing to hide, except tackle football ;-) Hey, Sunday was 13 months for you. Dang, time is flying! Enjoy it while you can!
AJ: Gosh I know. The clock wont stop. Its unreal how fast time goes. By the way, Echague is super close to Ramon. It's actually the same distance away from Santiago as Ramon. It's a 20 peso ride, which is like a 25 min ride or less. So Ramon is a 20 peso ride away from Santiago on a different highway and Echague is 20 pesos away from Santiago on the main road toward Cauayan. I am used to everything being far away, like in Tuguegarao and Nueva Viscaya. Anyway, Elder Wooden and the AP's both said you can P-Day in Santiago, so we still got Macdos! Echague is supposed to be a bomb ward. Elder Wooden said they give tons of quality referrals and he and his trainer baptized a family in Echague (that's my yet to be fulfilled quest – The Family!).
DAD: Ah yes, the family. I baptized a mother and daughter, does that count? (there was no dad in the picture)
AJ: If my family counts in Tug. We found the family. The mom had been inactive since she was teenager. We activated her and the kids all got baptized and the dad is going to church but isn't sure yet. The problem is, I got transferred before they got baptized. The dad might be baptized by now. I haven't heard anything in like 6 months. So does mine count?
DAD: Sure, your family counts. I've never baptized a Filipino, but I did dunk two white ladies and a couple of African-Americans.
AJ: I've never baptized a white person. Or an African American. A good portion of our baptisms have been ladies. But the grandpa in Aritao is legit. He is gonna be a branch president.
DAD: K, well, be good and good luck with transfers. Love you son!
AJ: That sounds great. I had a ton of stuff to read in my inbox. By the way, tell Grandma thanks for the email and pictures. It was good to see the fam. Yeah, good stuff.

G'night. Love ya!
WEEKLY LETTER

Hey Family!
Well, it was a great week for several reasons! I woke up Wednesday and felt awesome and we have been working as normal ever since! Thanksgiving Day we didn't get too trunky and we ate awesome cheese hotdogs and Oreos! And even better than that, we had a BAPTISM!
All right here is the rundown. So on Monday it was P-Day. I was feeling pretty lousy so I just washed clothes then we went to the computer store. We were going to grab some groceries, but it just started pouring rain like crazy, so we just went home. By then I was wasted, so I slept til like 5:45, then we went out and found a referral. It was this RM guy who wants us to baptize his wife. But the problem is, it's not really his wife. He has another wife and there is no divorce in the Philippines and they just had a baby so they are a special case. So we gotta tell them soon that they gotta separate or we can't really help them. Kinda of an ugly situation – I don't know what to do. Anyway after that, I was still super dizzy, but we went to our dinner appointment and went home. I didn't do too good.
Tuesday I was pretty wrecked as well, but we went to district meeting, then got groceries. By the time we went home, I was totally out of it and had to sleep for a little bit. At like 4, we did personal and comps study since it had been a while since we had a chance to study for lessons (at least for me, haha, cuz he had lots of study time while I was out, but also for us as a companionship). We worked that night and visited the baptismal dates and they were doing good. I was still pretty dizzy. Anyway we got back and I hit the sack and in the morning I felt great!

Kanarraville's Homer Einstein says Happy Thanksgiving!
So while we were eating breakfast, the AP's texted us and said they might stop by and asked what we had on the sked. Anyway, they kind of visit a lot because there is a storage room in the back of our house and this elder back in the day made a ridiculously huge weightlifting bar – Oh, by the way, missionaries make or get made weights all the time. They are like a bar with coffee cans on the end full of cement. Elder Katoa has wanted the weight for a while, so we thought they were just coming to grab something. Anyway, I guess they missed the turn and then they tried calling us and our phone is broken so that only we can hear, the other person can't hear us. After a few times, President Carlos called us, but he couldn't hear us either. Finally we were able to text them directions. But then we were like, uh oh, President is coming. So we had to clean up a little, real quick. It wasn't too dirty. We just kinda didn't make our beds – haha.

Anyway, I love President. He says the funniest things. He comes and walks around our house. Elder Wooden had a pair of socks in a bucket of water – I don't know why – but President Carlos says "Oh good, you're marinating the socks." Wooden also had a bucket of clothes sitting in dirty water and president says "Well, that's the reason your clothes are gonna stink," which he was right, because Elder Wooden had started that laundry like 3 days earlier and forgot about it – haha. Then he broke the news (about me getting transferred and made a DL).

Well then on Wednesday and Thursday we've just being searching for our old investigators that we haven't seen in over a week. They are hard to find, a lot of them. One, however, that we did find again is Fortunato Paris. Fortunato is kinda of a crazy old man and he always wants to look up the cross references in the BOM to the Bible, which is great, but hard when your trying to teach a lesson and then go teach other people.

Anyway, 2 weeks ago we were kind of at an impasse. He liked to read the Book of Mormon and the Bible and liked to listen to us, but he didn't want to go to church even when we challenged him to follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized. And even though we had taught the apostasy and restoration of the priesthood several times, and taught him about the need for the gift of the holy ghost he just kept saying he had been baptized in Espirtista (I am not sure what it is, never heard of it til my mission, supposedly the most espirutas are in Brazil).

Anyway. he wouldn't come to church and he just wasn't progressing. Well after 2 weeks of either being sick or him not being there, I am guessing he read the BOM a bit. His attitude was a lot of different. So he wants to go to church now. His problem was he was Mahiya. Basically Shy. It seriously is a disease – like it's definitely the most used excuse ever. Like, not just for commitments, but like all things. Anyway, we were able to talk to him and he is friends with a member that lives really close and he said, “OK, I'll just go over and go with them. The only problem is they just went inactive like 6 months ago. So we texted the member's son, who is active and a former bishop, to tell his dad to go to church with our investigator.

So ... as it turns out, our broken phone let us down again and he never received anything. So I don't know what happened, but neither of them went to church. Too bad. Hopefully next week.

Anyway the story didn't work out right, but here only in the mission have I gained a testimony of how important the very simple principles and ordinances of the gospel are and also how awesome the Book of Mormon is at changing the life of a person.

I know both of those thing are true and that Thomas S. Monson is the true prophet on the earth. It's weird, in Utah it's like everyone knows the church is true but in the real world (is that OK to say?) is where I really grew a testimony. So the church is true.

Gotta go!
Love ya a ton!
A.J.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Week 56: Mac-mac and Turkey Day


(Email chat between Elder AJ Griffin and his Dad, beginning about 9 p.m. Sunday in Utah or about noon Monday in the Philippines)
Elders Griffin and Wooden at a zone meeting in Cauayan.
AJ: Hey hey!
DAD: Hey man, you're on early tonight! How ya feeling?
AJ: Man I've been as sick as a dog this week, but today I am actually feeling kinda ok. Still dizzy, though.
DAD: Sorry you have been sick. You able to eat and get some nourishment? You gotta keep nourishing that body!
AJ: Yeah a few members brought us food and the district leader even brought us Macdos, so doing pretty good. I am impressed with dengue fever. I thought I could get over it in like a day, but now it's at a week and a half.
DAD: Kicked your butt eh? Do you feel like it is starting to go away? You need to take care and take this thing seriously.
AJ: Yeah, like from Tuesday to Saturday I was exhausted and slept most of the day. Monday to Thursday I had a terrible headache and dizziness and then I had fever and rash for awhile. Today though, I just am a little dizzy, but my body feels pretty good.
DAD: Is your companion going nuts? What about your investigators?
AJ: Yeah, he is going nuts. We've been able to teach a lesson at night a few times, but I come home all dizzy. We have been able to kind of keep up with ones with a baptism date, but with the other ones, not at all really. It's too bad. I've been wanting to go out and work so bad, but I just get all dizzy and out of whack.
DAD: I had a comp with mono when I was in New Jersey. Fortunately, I was able to do a ton of telephone contacting and setting appointments and stuff. We visited every member in the Audubon Ward with a member-missionary presentation that month. But I was kinda stir crazy, too. That was when I met your mother.
AJ: Haha – you dog! Were you attracted to her then or did you not really think much of her?
DAD: Nah, she was 16 and kinda nerdy and stuff. I didn't really talk to her again for a year until the end of my mission. My last couple of weeks we had a stake conference in her stake and I saw her there and she said she was coming out to BYU. Even then, she was kinda quiet and wore glasses and stuff. Never really considered her as anything but a friend until she came out to Utah, then it was Bam, Pow, Fireworks!
AJ: Haha, well I don't plan on meeting my wife on my mission. We have a baptism on Saturday! Mac-mac is a stud!
DAD: Sounds like your young men are studs, too, fellow-shipping him. How old is he? Does his family support his decision?
AJ: Yeah, the young men have been studs. I've only met like his aunts and uncles and cousins and they are mostly members. He is 15.
DAD: I hope he is strong. Do you think people there accept the Gospel because they have nowhere else to turn? They seem very humble, but also very poor. Does the church have a lot of people on welfare and stuff, or are they prideful and won't accept help? Just curious.
AJ: They are super humble and sometimes it seems like they accept the gospel because they have nowhere to turn. I haven't really seen anyone on welfare. I don't know how they use the fast offerings. There are no Bishop's storehouses or church-owned farms or anything. I don't know how the bishop gives out welfare. But people ask us for money all the time, so they aren't too prideful to ask.
DAD: Did Sister Carlos say anymore about this fever of yours and how to get rid of it? You just have to wait it out?
AJ: She just said I need to rest and take paracatamal (like Tylenol). She said if I push it too hard too fast it just makes it worse.
DAD: Well, listen to your mission mama. I guess there's not a whole lot we can do from here. We are praying for you (and Dallas) to get better. Holly gave a nice prayer at Grandma's asking Heavenly Father to bless you better.
AJ: Thanks, I think it's almost gone. Hopefully. I didn't even know Dallas was sick. Dangit! It just started pouring and our clothes are hanging outside of our house – supposed to be drying. They were close to dry when we left, too.
DAD: It rained coming home from G-Ma's, and I hit some big snowstorms the last two weeks. Mom was talking about sending you some hot chocolate. Cracked me up. She forgot that it doesn't get cold there.
AJ and Dallas (far left) Christmas morning 2004.
AJ: Yeah, it does not feel like Christmas season at all. It's just hot and rainy still. People are trying to tell me it's Christmas all the time though. I don't believe 'em.
DAD: Hey, only 36 shopping days til Christmas. Haha. If it's any consolation, I saw three houses with Christmas lights up today and all the stores are decked out for it, too.
AJ: Yeah, like 10 minutes ago these dudes came by with drums and a guitar, singing some Christmas song. It's still not even Thanksgiving! Settle down Philippines!
DAD: Guess you gotta go, eh? Well, I am so thankful to have a son like you. Your work and example there will touch the lives of so many, from your brothers to your nephews and nieces and your own children, plus all the lives you have touched in the Philippines. Thanks you for being a great son!!!
AJ: Thanks for being a great Dad. I sure treasured all our sports road trips.
DAD: Yeah, those were some great road trips. I loved 'em as much as you did.
AJ: We need to go on another one as soon as I get back! Love you! Bye!
DAD: Love you too!

WEEKLY LETTER

Happy Turkey Day!

I don't think I will come across any turkey this Thursday, but I am thankful anyway.

Well, this week I've just been sick and we have been able to work just a little bit. Tatay Ania pretty much fell off the face of the earth. On Friday, they went to Nueva Ecia Daw and didn't go to church this week, so his baptism isn't gonna happen on Saturday.

But Mac-Mac has been doing awesome and he passed the interview on Saturday. So he will be baptized this next Saturday.

The ward has been really cool, bringing us food a couple times when I was sick. Our district leader brought us MacDonalds, too, so that was awesome. Hopefully my sickness is almost gone. I am tired of being sick. I wanna work.

Well since it's almost Thankgiving, here are a few things I am thankful for:

I am thankful for you, Mom and Dad, for raising me from a throwup-ey little kid to an annoying teenager. Thanks for putting up with me. Thanks for writing me every week. Thanks for sending me packages and thanks for praying for me everyday.

Thanks to Mom for waking up early all those times and driving me to football practice, even though I was terrible at football.

Thanks Dad for taking me to games for 15 years. Some of my fondest memories are driving to random places like Delta and Tooele and watching football and eating good food and having long conversations about life!

Thanks Dallas and Bryce for putting up with me and always hanging out with me. Thanks for always being there to play some Sega or throw the football. Thanks for reading the scriptures with me.

Thanks Katie and Holly for being so sweet and darn cute.

Thanks for taking us to Grandma and Grandpas every week and thanks for feeding me for 19 years. You are anything a kid could ask for in parents. I love you so much, Mom and Dad. I am eternally indebted to you. You are the best parents in the world! I definitely picked you in the pre-existence and wouldn't want it any on other way.

Mom and Dad, You are awesome!
Happy Turkey Day! Go Cowboys!
I love you! A.J.