Monday, December 28, 2015

Bintulu/Miri District Youth Conference, Personal Finance, Mukah, Baptisms, and Christmas!

I missed getting a blog done last week. The week just flew by with three days at the Similajau National Park, just outside of Bintulu. We were invited to attend because of our calling with the seminary and institute program. It turned out to be an interesting and very wonderful experience.

We decided to fly to Bintulu this time instead of driving. This was much quicker. We took a taxi from the airport to the park. The taxi drive itself was an adventure. The taxi driver sort of knew where he was going, but not totally. Fortunately, I was watching the GPS on my phone and could give the driver, who spoke very little English, some direction. That was only part of the adventure. 

It was raining when we got there. Traffic wasn't too bad, but at one intersection where the light had turned red, we were wondering if the driver was going to stop! I was watching ahead as it looked like we weren't going to stop in time and squeeze into the space between two vans. We were grateful that the driver stopped. There wasn't enough room to squeeze between the vans. There would have been an accident, but we were blessed, and were able to continue on our way without incident.

We arrived at the park before any of the leaders or youth so we had to wait for a bit before they arrived. It was a beautiful morning with a little rain in a tropical setting.

Entrance to Similajau National Park
Welcome to the tropics!
Palm trees growing/rotting in the sea.
The main pavillion
On the beach
There were kids from the Bintulu and Miri districts. There were two kids from Brunei as well. Along with the other senior couple there (from Miri), we helped these two along with a third choreograph a little dance to the Mexican Hat Dance. Each branch performed a dance number from different areas of the world. All the other branches had been working on their dances for weeks. Some had fancy costumes and make up. The kids from Brunei just found out about the dance on Monday.

I should add the two kids from Brunei are brother and sister, they attend seminary faithfully, taught by their mother. They belong to a group which is smaller than a branch. The Church is not recognized in Brunei.

Elder and Sister Evensen and Elder and Sister Bodell
The Mexican Hat Dance

Our boss, President Lai, also attended the youth conference. He told us Monday night that we would be helping him present the next day during the workshops. (So, what else is new? We're getting pretty good at putting presentations together at last minute.) President Lai wanted us to talk about the new requirements for seminary certification and graduation. We politely declined telling him that we didn't want to scare the youth away from attending seminary. We wanted to motivate them to attend. He agreed and let us do what we wanted. We presented two stories from the Old Testament. It was crazy, but we had fun and got the kids involved in acting out the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago. We involved everyone in each of the six groups that came through. (We even had the youth being the fire in the furnace!) We showed a clip of the parting of the Red Sea from the movie, The Ten Commandments. The youth were mesmerized by the clip. Most of them actually knew the stories, but had forgotten the names. After the presentation we asked them how each story pertains to each of us. They gave very thoughtful answers. These youth are amazing. The future of the Church here in Sarawak is in good hands.

Sister Bodell discussing Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
Our new friends from Brunei and the Evensens
The parting photo 
Saying good-bye to new friends
Love that handshake!
The youth conference was wonderful, but it was good to get back. I needed the time to write a talk for Sacrament meeting the coming Sunday and get it translated before then. The Sunday before this youth conference President Gara of Branch 1 asked me to speak about personal finance and encourage the members to to make a budget and keep to it. I was given seven minutes to speak. So, upon our return, I speedily jotted down thoughts and notes and got my talk written. What I couldn't figure out to say I sent through Google Translate and then sent it to our tutor for correction. He had corrections done in 30 minutes. I gave that to one of the Elders from East Malaysia who then made a few more corrections. When all was said and done, the talk lasted 7½ minutes and covered what the Branch President had asked for.

On the following day, we took our district Elders on a road trip to Mukah. It was an all day excursion into the jungle of Borneo. Our guide was our good friend Jackson. He lives and works in Sibu, but he is from Mukah. We visited his parents and other family members who provided a wonderful lunch for us. Jackson's parent's house, which is surrounded by water, is built on stilts and only reachable by boat. We took the boats up the river to gather some greens which were later prepared for our lunch, There were also some fruit trees along the way that provided fruit for lunch as well.

The adventure begins where the street is flooded.
The Elders waded. We waited.
 It was faster to ride than walk . . . cleaner, too!

The only way in and out to Jackson's house

One of several outhouses on the river
Carved Iban swords
 Iban swords in the making!

Picking vegetables for lunch
The grill is underneath this shed!
Getting there is half the fun! 

The crew with our supply of freshly picked greens for lunch 
Jackson and family with the missionaries
Driving in Sibu is challenging enough. Driving in the jungle is something else!

This trip helped us appreciate what we have even more that have done. These are simple folk who are happy for what they have. We have it so easy in America. We take a lot for granted!

Tuesday was zone meeting with our little zone. It's always subject to change. This coming week are transfers again, and we know there will be more changes.

Back Row: Elders B, D, T, S, M, M, R, C, and B
Middle Row: Elder and Sister Bodell, Sister and Elder Harrison
Front Row: Elders A, S, and S
These pictures are just the best!
The rest of the week was Christmas, Christmas, and more Christmas! I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Partying with Branch 2 members at Brother Merang's home
Sister Doo, Sister Bodell, Elder Bodell, Brother Merang 
"Mary, being great with child . . . "
Yes, the girl playing Mary took it upon herself to add a very large balloon to her costume.
Guess who Santa was at the Chinese Branch Christmas party?
Santa with President Chua Huat on his knee 
Santa and his elves . . .
Elders S, T, A, and C 
Santa and Sister Claus 
 I should get this app. President Chua Huat's daughter made this.

BAPTISMS! I can't forget the baptisms!

Brother Merang baptized his daughter.
There were pictures of his baptism last year.
The Priesthood in action!
Elders A and T have been working hard and baptized two families this month.
This is Brother Robert, his wife and family.
This is Brother Ijang and family.
There are many photos and videos I could share, but I want to get his in this posted before another week has passed. It has been a full week, a fast week, a special week, a blessed week, a spiritual week. What a wonderful time of the year to be serving a mission! Even though we have missed our family, we have been blessed to be here with these generous people. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Youth Conference, Mini-Zone Christmas Conference, Baptisms

Wow! This week has been full. It started with the Sibu District Youth Conference . . . three days of activities and workshops planned and executed by a well-organized seminary council and youth leaders. It's been a blessing to be able to step back and watch them in action. The only thing we really helped with in the end is shopping for supplies, helping with meals, and other little odd, last minute things that needed to be done. I am so impressed with the youth who planned this and their youth leaders, especially Jackson, who helped carry out the plans. The youth leaders taught the workshops on missionary work, reverence, temples and eternal marriage, and reverence. Our good friend Rolyn (17 years of age and waiting for his mission call) taught the boys section on chastity.

It was a great youth conference. I am presently working on a video with all the pictures that Rolyn and I took. I hope to post it to YouTube if it's not too large. I will provide a link when that is finished.

The Sibu District Youth

More fun!

The youth and leaders, including President and Sister Simmons, in their Sunday Best

Still more fun!

A few pictures taken during the mini-zone Christmas conference.

President Simmons (Mission President), President Chua (District President),
Elder and Sister Harrison

Elder and Sister Mills, Sister Chua, Sister Simmons

The Sibu Zone

The ZLs, Elders R &S, and the APs, Elders S & P

They enjoyed a great dinner of baked Ziti, green salad, garlic bread,
and brownies with ice cream and crushed peppermint candies,
all prepared by Sister Bodell
Saturday was a special day. The Branch One Elders had three baptisms. It was neat to see Brother Kayong baptize his two daughters. Brother Kayong and his wife were baptized just a couple of weeks ago. Brother Kayong received the Aaronic Priesthood last week and was ordained to the office of Priest making it possible for him to baptize his daughters. This is the way it should be. It was beautiful.

Jennyfer and Anna Beatriz anak Kayong

Brother Kayong and his family
The other baptism was a young man named Tony. He's got a great spirit and is always happy. He attended Youth Conference this past week. He was surprised with everyone singing Happy Birthday to him during conference. What a support group he has. There was an outpouring of love for him.

Tony anak Puso

Tony with his sister and mother

Everyone with Elders M and S

It's been a great week . . . very busy, but well-worth it. The gospel is true. It's awesome to see the youth in action here, and to see the Church growing with new members.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

It's Official! Busy Week, Eating Out, Flooding, More Food, and Help Needed

It's official! We have received our flight itinerary for our trip home. We leave Singapore on March 1st, and arrive in Salt Lake City on March 1st. We'll spend the night in SLC with family and fly to St. George on March 2nd. We will speak in Sacrament meeting on Sunday, March 12th at 11:00 AM. There will be more information about that later.

Enough of that! There is still plenty going on here until then.

It has been a very busy week getting prepared for Youth Conference next week. The good news is the the seminary council has pretty much organized it all on their own. We've done most of the acquisition of materials for the activities, but they've organized the workshops and games. I'm way impressed by what they've done. Youth Conference is this coming Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and will be held at the Sibu Chapel.

So, what else has been happening this week? We had our first tasted of Durian. It's a common fruit here that you either like or dislike. I was hoping to be in the like category, but I'm not. Sister Bodell liked it better than I did, but still not overly enthused about it. Elder S bought shared some at district meeting this week. It has a very peculiar smell and is frequently banned on public transport and in hotels.

Elder S with a durian . . .
You eat the pods inside.
A favorite place to eat in Sibu
Happiness is eating at Café Café.
The rainy season is upon us again. This is nice because it's definitely cooler when it rains. In case you're wondering, the Malay word for rain is hujan. We love the rain, but some of the streets get flooded with water. Here are a couple of views. Thank goodness we have the van now instead of the sedan.

We just fold up the wheels and go for it!

I hope you noticed the fan shaped palm at the end of the video 
on the right side of the street. There are several throughout the city.
I find them fascinating.
Did you notice the barricade in the street? 
It surrounds a very large pot hole!

I love the ferns growing in the trees.
The ferns add a lot of character to the trees.
Loved this cloud, just after one of the thunderstorms.
Another good place to eat is this kadai. The Elders call it Momma's Noodles.
This isn't on the menu, but the Elders know how to order, and it is very good.
The drink is a passion fruit ice blended from Wiki Tea which is just next door
to Momma's Noodles. It, too, is sedap.

I am really enjoying the Christmas decorations this year. There are a lot of "western" traditions that are part of the Christmas culture here. Gingerbread is no exception. Not many of the locals bake gingerbread, but it's in the store decorations, along with snowmen and Santa Claus. Snowmen in Malaysia? Only in the malls!

I would like to have had someone sticking the heads through the holes,
but no one was around.
One of the restaurants here makes gingerbread houses and other goodies.
A lot happened Sunday as usual. In addition to choir practice with Branch Satu (One), I had the opportunity to give a blessing to a brother who is having health issues. He and his wife both requested that I give the blessing. That was a humbling experience. I was also able to help Brother Gaadong with tithing and solve a problem with a budget submission. I'm glad I got the email on that issue. It was pretty easy to solve.

I will close with one more food picture. Branch Satu frequently breaks their fast together as a branch on Sunday evening. They begin with a hymn, prayer, and short talk. There was a pretty good group there this evening.

Typical Branch 2 Fast Sunday gathering to break their fast 
Is this little guy handsome or what?
Brother Steven and the newest addition to the family
Tomorrow is the beginning of our three-day youth conference, then a special mini-zone conference on Thursday. The Branch Dua (Two) Christmas party is Saturday and a baptismal service, too. I hope I can keep up.

Just a couple of quick notes on which to end.

First: If you haven't sent the missionaries a Christmas card yet, get it done tomorrow! They would love to hear from you. You may have to get their email address from their family.

Second: If you, or another senior couple you know is ready for a mission, kindly suggest they submit their papers now for the Singapore Mission. The number of senior couples in our mission has dropped with several couples going home and no replacements coming. It is a sad situation. They are badly needed to help strengthen the branches here in East Malaysia. Please consider it!

May you feel our Savior's love as you prepare for the celebration of His birth.