Friday, October 23, 2015

E-mail Oct. 19, 2015: "Congratulations, you have lived through a Super Typhoon."

Those were the encouraging words we received form our zone leaders last night after Typhoon Lando finally moved away. We came in early Saturday night because of the approaching storm and were in lock down the next two days and couldn't even leave our apartment. Although our area was not affected as heavily as others, we still experienced torrential rain, howling winds, more torrential rain, and a slightly flooded apartment. Thankfully though, the Lord was with us and it looks like everyone in the mission was kept away from harm. It was weird not going to church on Sunday and having to stay inside and find things to do all day instead (although I will admit it was nice to have a little time to rest). It was a little surprising though when on Monday we were still under partial lock down even though the storm was almost passed and we probably would have been perfectly safe outside. The church took heavy precautions to ensure the safety of the missionaries, even at the expense of missing church and preparation day.

I think there's a lesson to be learned there. This experience taught me that the Lord greatly values our physical safety, but equally important to Him is our spiritual safety. The mission, under the direction of the Lord, did everything they could to keep us safe during the typhoon, and in the same way the Lord does everything He can, while still respecting our agency, to give us commandments and guidance to ensure our spiritual safety. As we saw the winds howling and felt the heavy torrents of rain beat against our home we weren't very tempted to see what it would be like to go outside. Why is it then that when spiritual storms of temptation and sin come into our lives that we sometimes decide to wander out into the gale, despite God's constant warnings, to see what it's like? I think it's because Satan is a master deceiver, and his expertise lies in covering up the winds and pounding rain so we don't realize how threatening the storm really is until we've been swept away. That's shy it's so important to listen to the Ultimate Forecaster who urges us to stay safe inside His shelter by keeping his commandments and preparing ourselves against temptation. I pray that we'll all be wise enough to recognize the spiritual storms in our lives for what they really are, and that we'll have the strength to do everything we can to stay safe when they come.

We've started teaching an Indian man from Punjab who's living here with his family. His name is Darshen Singh and he's very nice and receptive to the gospel. I cannot adequately describe the nostalgia I felt as he greeted us in his Indian accent and invited into his home where Bollywood was playing on the TV. I remember when I first got to India and every time I saw an American it brought a feeling of familiarity and kinship, and now every time I see an Indian here (which happens surprisingly often) I get the same feeling. I was a little disappointed when we learned that he's so proficient in Tagalog that he'd rather be taught in that language, but his whole family is receptive and we have high hopes for them accepting the gospel and being baptized so I'm still happy. :)

Anyways everyone until next time, stay awesome. :)
-Elder Cloward

We finally have a snail mail address for him in the Philippines:

Philippines Angeles Mission
F. Tanedo Street, Brgy San Nicolas
Tarlac City, Tarlac 2300 

That's to the mission office where they sort the mail and deliver them to the missionaries. It looks like I may be here for a little while longer so if anyone wants to send letters or packages it's probably okay right now.  - Elder Cloward

Monday, October 12, 2015

E-mail: Oct. 12, 2015 "Every. Single. Time."

The devil is real, brothers and sisters. That's one thing I've learned on my mission. One example that helps to prove that though is more annoying than anything else.

During our training in the MTC (crazy how I still remember all of that) and on almost every page of preach my gospel (which we study daily) it encourages the missionaries to frequently bear testimony of Joseph Smith and of the Restoration, because that will be the foundation of an investigator's testimony of the restored gospel. All missionaries know this important part of teaching, but unfortunately so does the adversary. Almost every single time, without fail, someone or something will interrupt me or my companion right as we begin to bear our personal testimony of Joseph Smith and of the Book of Mormon. Even during a lesson with no distractions previous to or following our bearing of testimony something always happens right at that crucial moment. Am I saying that Satan controls when the baby starts crying or when friends come to the door or when dishes suddenly fall of the kitchen counter? Not necessarily, but it's obvious that he has some influence and does everything he can to prevent that ever-crucial testifying moment.

I think that happens in our lives as well; why does it seem that whenever we try to make correct choices or whenever our testimony is strengthened things unavoidably get harder? It should be the other way around shouldn't it? Shouldn't things get easier as we come closer to the Savior and begin to follow Him more exactly? I think there are two reasons for the almost predictable increase in stress that comes as we increase our effort to keep the commandments. First, the father of all lies knows us very well. He was our brother and he lived and associated with us for eons before we were born and so he knows our weaknesses. He recognizes when we start taking steps in the right direction and does everything he can to bring us down. The comforting part though, and also ironically the second reason we experience these difficulties, is that our Heavenly Father also knows our weaknesses and He also sees when we progress further along the path of discipleship. God will never let us be tempted above that which we are able to bear, so maybe the reason temptations increase when our resolve to do good increases is because that resolve leaves us a little bit stronger, strong enough to combat even harder trials. With new light and knowledge also comes the necessity of putting that light and knowledge to the test so it can become tempered and permanent, so instead of taking away the trials when they come, our Father in Heaven lets us groan a little as we lift the figurative barbell and strengthen our spiritual pectorals. I testify that even in the midst of necessary trials and temptations our Father is always there, and He will ALWAYS provide the strength we need if we'll reach out to Him for it.

Well, that spiritual thought turned out to be a little longer than I thought it would be. I'll have to write about our new investigator from India next week. Remind me.

Anyways everyone until next week, stay strong and rock on. :)
-Elder Clouds

Monday, October 5, 2015

E-mail: Oct. 5, 2015 "2 baptisms! That's what I'm talking about!‏"

A few months ago a woman came to church who we didn't recognize. After talking to her, we learned that she was a less active member and that she'd been a member for almost 20 years. She told us about her family and she agreed to let us come and visit. When we went to her home we met her 4 children and found out that her two oldest children, Kyle and Trisha, were not yet baptized.

As we started teaching them they seemed less than interested in learning about the gospel and even though their mother continued to come to church, Trisha was hesitant to leave her friends in her Baptist church and went there on Sunday instead. We learned later that the family was experiencing some significant hardships and they all seemed drained of life happiness. Despite all the trials they were experiencing and the initial lack of interest, shortly after we started visiting them the entire atmosphere of the home changed. Sadness and emptiness was replaced with light and joy. They all started to laugh again and we looked forward to visiting them.

Saturday was Trisha and Kyle's baptism and the spirit at the service was incredibly strong. What was it that changed everything about this family? What was it that allowed them to experience joy again even in the middle of their trials? I think you already know the answer. This experience was a powerful testimony to me that when someone, anyone, lets the gospel into their life, keeps the commandments, and makes necessary sacrifices in order to follow the Savior, they'll experience the incredible changing and cleansing power of the atonement. One thing I've learned a lot about recently is that as we desire and try to change and become better people we really are helpless on our own. I used to believe that reliance on the Savior and His atonement provided a sort of boost to the change process as we try to overcome our weaknesses, but I realize now that it's the only way we can truly change. Although overcoming weaknesses and trying to become more Christlike still requires our constant effort, it's essential to realize and admit that alone we simply can't do it. As we humble ourselves and put our complete faith in the Savior and His promises, a power beyond our own flows into our lives that brings with it the necessary strength to change and become who our Heavenly Father wants us to be. I testify of that.

Mahal Kita everyone. :)
-Elder Cloward

Sunday, October 4, 2015

E-mail: Sept 27, 2015 "Why is laughter the best medicine? Because when you overdose it actually makes you live longer!"

Quotes from the past few weeks:

From one of my Filipino cabahays (room mates)- "Hey Joe! You looks like a Joe!"

As one of our recent converts called to invite his brother in for the lesson- "Can you come into the out now?"

One of the sister missionaries who gave the training during district meeting- "Gah... you guys are all going to hell." (thankfully she wasn't referring to us. ...I think.)

As one of the sister missionaries was explaining their investigators problem- "We've taught him the Word of Wisdom but he's still smoking three sticks of espresso each day."

And I found this written on the chalkboard when we walked into one of the church classrooms a few weeks ago- "Being a LDS is best thing happen in my life."

We have a lot of fun over here. Whether it be with the missionaries, members, or people we meet on the street, there's always something said that makes us laugh, and it's usually because whoever was speaking tried to use English and it didn't come across right. On the other hand though I think it's so cool how despite obvious language barriers or mistakes the truths of the gospel are the same. "Being a LDS is best thing happen in my life." is a beautiful declaration from someone who recognizes how important the gospel is to them. It's a reminder to me that although the seemingly insurmountable language barriers in the Philippines and in India are often frustrating and occasionally discouraging, the Spirit can and does speak to those who's hearts are ready to listen. I think the same is true even where individuals speak the same language. Often there will be those who don't care what we have to say and won't listen when we try to reach out, but if we can help them to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, which I've learned comes as we love and selflessly serve them, He can speak the language that everyone already knows and yearns to hear, the language of the Spirit. I testify of that.


Angeles District 2, from left to right- Elder Clouds, Elder Ditan, Elder Flores (in the front), Elder Gemelo, Sister Mepania, Sister Tikeri, Sister Estrada, and Sister Borrowman.

I love Filipino bugs (this one's bigger than the spider).

A not-so-little friend we became acquainted with a few weeks ago. (I took the picture after hitting him with a broom when I thought he was dead. Turns out he was only unconscious and tried to kill me a few minutes later).

A flaming 1 to represent one year in the refiner's fire completed and one more to go.

A flaming tie because, well, it's hump day, and we like lighting things on fire.

Ending Hump day with donuts and Milo. (There ain't nothing better).

Mahal Kita everyone!
-Elder Cloward

E-mail: Sept 20, 2015 "Oh come on, it's not even October yet!"

These last few weeks I've become acquainted with what the locals over here call the "Ber Months", meaning all the months ending with "ber"- september, october, novemeber, etc. They're characterized by scorching temperatures (at least right now) and every store selling Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music. Our neighbors bought a giant karaoke machine a little while ago so I've been waking up to "Last Christmas I gave you my heart" and selections from the Jackson 5 Christmas album every day for weeks now. I've developed a new love for Thanksgiving because I've realized that aside form being a great time to be thankful, the holiday keeps the Christmas spirit at bay a little bit longer in the US. My Filipino companions all believe I'm a heartless Scrooge because I'm under the strong opinion that the Christmas season belongs in December and nowhere else. I've tried to explain to them that just because I want to take an ax to every holiday tree set up before Halloween doesn't mean I hate Christmas, but I don't think they believe me. Oh well.

This week we taught the son of a recent convert and his wife for the first time. We started teaching them about the restoration and right from the beginning I could tell it wasn't going very well. They weren't paying very close attention and in the middle of the lesson two of their young boys ran in and started crying and and wanting attention. As I saw our lesson catapulting out of control I was worried they wouldn't let us come back if something didn't change. Not knowing what I could do, I said a silent prayer in my heart, "Heavenly Father, this lesson is falling apart, please help us save it." No sooner had I thought the words then the two boys almost immediately stopped crying and remained calm for the rest of the lesson. As the lesson progressed the Spirit entered and the couple began to listen intently. The lesson ended up going so well that for what I think was the first time on my mission, they came to church the first Sunday after we we invited them.

Do you believe in miracles? I do.

God answers our prayers when we put our trust in Him. I didn't say my prayer out loud, I wasn't even able to bow my head or fold my arms, but as I sent up a silent petition from my heart He heard me and answered immediately. Our Father in Heaven loves us and will answer us if we just have the faith to ask. I testify of that.

Anyways everybody mahal kita, manatili kahanga-hangang. :)
-Elder Cloward

E-mail Sept. 14, 2015: "Wow, didn't see that one coming"

Isn't it funny how whenever you get comfortable with how things are going in life God throws a curve ball at you which changes everything and throws you clear out of your comfort zone and into the great abyss of fear and uncertainty?

I thought it was funny too until it actually happened to me.

This week my companion, Elder Operio, got emergency transferred into an area on the other side of the mission. We don't know the exact reason but it sounds like there was a problem between the previous missionaries and some members so Elder Operio gets to help sort things out over there.

What does that mean for Elder Cloward? Elder Cloward gets to lead an area he's only been in for 1 transfer where he still doesn't know the language. In short I was terrified and stressed as anything, but after a lot of prayers and feel good food I've been able to manage.

One thing I've learned about changes and trials is that our Heavenly Father will never leave us alone and he'll give us the tools we need to succeed. My tool for success during this period of growth happens to be my new companion, Elder Flores. Elder Flores is a native Filipino who's been out for 9 months and is about as friendly as they come. He has the ability to connect with people instantly and make them smile, yet at the same time he's incredibly humble and remembers his purpose at all times. We've had a great time so far, and I'm pretty sure I'm learning more from him than he is from me. I'm grateful for the opportunity the Lord has given me to grow, as uncomfortable as it may be, and I know that He'll help me through it.


The view form our apartment

Gosh I love sunsets

I love how my mission looks exactly like what everyone imagines a foreign mission to look like.

Hey look! I'm home!

What's better than an Indian restaurant in the Philippines?  That's right, nothing!

Love you everyone! Take care. :)
-Elder Clouds