Thursday, June 18, 2015

E-mail: June 14, 2015 "Small snack, Ah?"

"Yes sister we're coming tomorrow morning. No sister you don't have to make us food this time. No please sister, you gave us so much last time. Sister we'll only come if you promise not to feed us. Fine sister we can have a small snack, but small only. Promise sister? Okay, see you tomorrow."

I smiled to myself as my companion finished the conversation and hung up the phone. We were going to visit one of my favorite part-member families here in Chennai. The investigator we're teaching is named Priya (pree-yah), and her sister Dheena, who was baptized about a month ago, always prepares a five star meal whenever we visit. Now I'm definitely not complaining against a member preparing us food, especially when it's really good food, but this sister is notorious for preparing enough rice and curry for the entire Indian army and then expecting two missionaries to finish it all and lick their plates clean. As much as we love to visit this family I'm sure the memory of us staggering away from their home last week with enough rice in our stomachs to keep us full for days drove my companion to make sure that she only prepared a "small snack".

Famous last words.

The next morning after consuming three dosas, two servings of chicken curry, two glasses of Maaza (mango juice), and half a loaf of egg toast she finally let us leave, and we lumbered away wondering how "small snack" turned into "let's see how fast we can give the Elders diabetes".

As much as I resent the rice belly I've acquired through experiences like this though it has taught me what it really means to be selfless. Some of the people that we visit here barely have enough means to keep food on their own table, let alone enough to feed two hungry missionaries, yet whenever we visit a family like that we rarely walk away hungry. There was one time we went to a member's home and he served us a modest serving of what I thought was leftover beef curry. When he saw how much I enjoyed it he continued to serve us and insisted that we finish what was left. It was only until after we were walking away that my companion and I realized that the food he'd given us wasn't leftover, it was supposed to be dinner for him and his wife. That experience taught me that sometimes I just have to say no when there's not a lot of food because they'll literally feed us until there's nothing left, but it also taught me a little bit about how Christlike many of these people are and how I want to be like that. These are people who give more than anyone else because they give all they have, and although their means are meager a common factor that always exists is that they're happy. I'm going to work on being more like them.

Oh, and while we're talking about food let me add a few new members to the list of crazy concoctions I've encountered. In the last two weeks I've also tried pancakes made out of noodles, chocolate cheese toast (it's exactly what it sounds like), a crazy vegetable which looks like a coconut on the outside and has clear jello patties on the inside, and buttermilk with chili peppers drunk straight from the glass.
I'll start taking pictures from now on.

And before I forget again I finished the Book of Mormon three weeks ago on May 26th, so if you were able to keep up and finished by at least the 28th I'll send a postcard your way. Even if you weren't able to beat me though email me with where you are and share your experience, I'd love to hear about it. :)

Anyways until next week, work hard and pray harder. :)
-Elder Clouds

A note from Jen (mom):

In a personal email he told us that he will for sure be going to the Philippines next month to renew his visa.   The elders that were sent there in January finally got their new visas.  This process should only take 3 months, so he is worried that it took the last elders 7.5 months to get back to India.  He is asking us to please pray that his visa renewal will go quickly and smoothly.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

E-mail June 9, 2015 "I see what you did there..."

Question of the day- How does a missionary who's out walking and working all day survive a full 24 hour fast on fast Sunday during a heat wave without getting sick or passing out? Really the only thing you can do is pray for strength and hope for a miracle, but as I did that this week I received some surprise blessings and learned that sometimes God answers prayers in unusual ways.

The first of these blessings were the wonderful sister missionaries who took the time to prepare food for all the hungry missionaries at church so they wouldn't have to travel an hour back to their areas on empty stomachs, but even though we knew that food would be waiting for us after the meetings, we were still wondering how we would make it till 3:00. The answer came during the administration of the sacrament as I quietly prayed that my growling belly wouldn't disrupt the reverence of the service. I don't know if it was because the priests were new, if there was more bread than was needed, or if it was simply a tender mercy from the Lord, but as the tray came to me I was surprised to see that instead of small bite-sized bits, each piece was almost half a slice of bread. I'm grateful to have been fed physically as well as spiritually that day.

This experience taught me another lesson as well though- any time we go without food our bodies send us signals, such as hunger, cravings, and even pain to let us know that it needs to be recharged. Think of a time (perhaps a fast Sunday) when you went without food for an extended period of time- any time you saw, smelled, or even thought about food it made the experience harder and almost unbearable. Now remember when you finally sat down at the dinner table to a large meal lovingly prepared by you mother- you could barely even make it through the blessing on the food before you dug in to comfort your ravished body. Just as the sacrament calmed my physical hunger during church last week it can do the same to soothe the spiritual cravings of everyone who worthily and regularly partakes of it. Everything we teach about in the church is centered on Jesus Christ. He was the Savior, the Redeemer, the great Jehovah sent to prepare a way so that we, as mortals and sinners could have a chance at eternal salvation. The most important event of the life of the most important individual to ever live was the Atonement, the sacrifice that allowed all of us to be fed and healed. When we take the sacrament each week we do so in remembrance of that great sacrifice and our promise to be completely loyal to the one who performed it. It can, if we let it, be an experience that feeds our souls and heals our wounds. Just as your physical body sends you signs when it's hungry, your spirit also sends you signs when it needs nourishment. These signs include guilt, sadness, remorse, emotional pain, and several others and they can only be satisfied as we show our love and gratitude to our Savior and His sacrifice by taking the emblems of His flesh and blood and renewing our promise to always remember Him. I testify that the sacrament is the most important thing we can do each week and it can, if we let it, be the nourishment our ever-hungry souls so desperately need.

Chennai is as hot and humid as everyone said it would be. Every time I step outside our air-conditioned bedroom it's literally like I'm walking into a sauna. I determined, however, that I wouldn't let the hellish temperatures get the best of me and that I would overcome my uncomfortable condition through patient endurance. After a few days as I started to get used to the heat I thought to myself "this isn't so bad", but just as I started to think that I was really something special for being able to adjust so quickly, the AC unit in our apartment broke and three sleepless nights full of sweat and mosquitoes did it's job to humble me again.

I have to say though that other than the heat I love this city. It's lush and green and has that salty, seaside feel wherever I go. The members here are awesome as well. Church on Sunday was very uplifting and I was able to meet many devoted yet lighthearted and humorous people who brightened my day. On top of it all my new companion is Elder Pushparaj, an Indian missionary from Bangalore who started serving the same time as me and who became a close friend while we were in the same zone in Hyderabad. He's fun, focused, and has a magnetic personality and infectious positive attitude that leaves everyone smiling. Needless to say but I think I'm going to enjoy my time here. :)

Anyways everyone until next week- Rock On. 
-Elder Clouds

E-mail: May 31, 2015 "Have you ever had Shawarma?"

Imagine a really long flame grill that's been flipped upright onto it's side, then imagine a man who slowly turns a 3 foot long vertical spit packed with slabs of chicken until the outside is perfectly roasted and slightly charred. Cut off the cooked outer layer with a small knife, mix that with some fancy sauces and spices, pack it into a slice of pita bread and roll that whole thing up like a burrito and you have a Muslim delicacy.

In other words, yes Mr. Stark, I have tried Shawarma.

One of the things I know I'm going to miss most when I leave here is the food. In fact there's an american elder who's doing his visa extension in the Philippines right now and the only request he has for the elders he's stayed in touch with is to "BRING ME SOME CURRY". There are many foods I've tried that send my taste buds to heaven, there are many I've tried that that almost bring me to tears because regardless of how bad it is I know I have to finish it so I don't offend the member, and then there are some combinations that occasionally are just bizarre enough to be amazing. One of our favorite snacks to get in the afternoon is a butternut (avocado) shake. Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like: a milkshake made from an avocado. The first time I was pressured into trying it I was more than just a little skeptical, but much like many of the people we teach, once I was converted I couldn't get enough of it. Other such crazy combos include a sugary dessert made with noodles and cashews, a boiled egg wrapped in a flaky pastry, a banana fried in a salty batter, another dessert made with flour and paneer (a block of cheese solids) and soaked in syrup, and pink rose flavored milk. All of these ended up being surprisingly good, except for the milk. The first time I saw it in a store I bought some thinking it would be and exotic type of strawberry flavor, only to throw it away when we got home because it literally tasted like I was chewing on a flower.

Seeing how successful these crazy combinations are it's inspired me to get a little creative with the food we have in the apartment. If I'm successful I may be able to contribute my own concoctions to the Indian food market, just so long as I can get my companion to try them first...

I learned this week that India is having a pretty bad heat wave and it's causing a lot of problems. This week was the first time I heard about it though because I've been sitting comfortably in the air-conditioned city of Bengaluru and didn't notice any changes in the perfectly moderate weather. In our mission the three biggest cities are: Bangalore- known for being cool, Hyderabad- known for being dry, and Chennai- known for being hotter than heck. When I was depressed about going to Bangalore my last transfer because I wanted to get away from the big city I consoled myself with the thought that "at least it's nice and cool in Bangalore, at least I'm not going to Chennai."

Brothers and sisters, may I testify to you today that God listens to everything you say, whether you like it or not.

Guess who just got transferred to the seaside city of heat stroke?

One of my favorite quotes says "there's not growth in a comfort zone, and there's no comfort in a growth zone." I got pretty comfortable in Bangalore, not in a bad way of course, but the weather was great, I loved the people, the weather was great, the work was beginning to pick up, and the weather was great. I know that whatever the Lord has in store for me in Chennai at this time is what I need to continue to grow, but any extra prayers that Elder Clouds doesn't "faint by the wayside" because of the heat would be appreciated. ;)

Anyways until next time everyone, rock on. :)
-Elder Clouds