Monday, February 24, 2014

Where in the world? Burma Too!

Dear Family and Friends,

I'd like to announce that I have LEFT the farmfields of Thailand and got thrown into the fryer of BANGKOK. Just so everyone is caught back up to speed, I have been in the Eesan for over one year. As I am rolling into my 5 months left mark, I have stumbled into what is probably one of the most populated and traffic congested places this side of Asia!

I serve in the Don Muang branch. On a map, you could probably look up the name Pakkret and there it is. That's where I am.

I literally switched places with Sister McDermott. Hahaha! Crazy! So now she is in RoiEt, where we joked she would go, and I am here in her apartment in the middle of Bangkok. I definitely cleaned out the apartment before I walked in the door, though. (Sister Mac, if you ever read this, you have to throw away empty peanut butter jars!!)

Anyway, so I'm now with Sister Croft! She is what Thai's call a "Half Child" haha. Meaning her mom is from Taiwan and so she's 1/2 foreign and 1/2 not. She is a hard worker and a diligent one too. Which is good because I only have 5 months left and that's not a lot of time! She is really funny and, weirdly enough, the first companion I've ever NOT trained. So she works entirely individually and functionally! It's full-on 50-50%! It's like a huge stress relief in that way, knowing she's got my back and we just bounce off teaching between the two of us. She came in with Sister Packard's group. She's a total boss, and a Salt Lake City girl.

Working in Bangkok is Aladdin's "Whole New World". People have aspirations and there are a whole lot less crazies. They are a busy bunch, that's for sure. Definitely not the "boonies" over here. Our apartment is nice and safe, and quiet too! Who knew "sound proofing" was a thing. My bed and the couch are probably tear-forming topics for me, as they are so comfortable and not a box spring. I bought a little plant for my desk which we affectionately named the thai word for "cobweb"... our methodology being opening the dictionary and choosing the first word. And we have a washing machine that I don't have to manually wind myself!!!

To be honest, I feel like I just landed back into country again because I am so unfamiliar with this side of Thailand. Traffic is insane: my first experience was 8 lanes across going both ways at night, with 1000's of cars, U-turning, all while having EGGS on my handlebars from the grocery store. Tried not to get hit by anything. Only one egg get a chip.

Inviting people is a brand new experience. You actually get rejected pretty straight-forwardly! It's nice cause it saves time, but it's kinda like, "Oh. Wow, okay." Which is funny. I honestly take no offense at all, in fact, I start laughing with every person that's a flat out no. I make inviting a good game, where I make the rules. Haha. So I always win.

I'm still the Sister Training Leader, but now I'm over North Bangkok: Rangsit, Pakkret, Don Muang, and Bangkaen. My MTC companion is now in our zone, and apparently only like 20 minutes away, so we're getting lunch today! It's super weird to be anywhere where I see OTHER areas so closely.

Yesterday at church I got a good share of really nice compliments. Apparently my language is impressive at this point. It's kinda really nice to understand 99% of what everyone is saying. So I am having a greenie experience but with the ability to understand everything. It's definitely strange. Everyone has been super kind to me in my branch, and hopefully they've like me! Little girl in big city here!

We had a "Sisters Conference" which was entirely inspiring and wonderful. The spirit was so strong that I was fighting tears and hoping nobody was watching me struggle with them. I was asked to prepare a talk, my topic being "The power of faith as a missionary". From all the miraculous things I've seen, it was a topic I could testify of confidently. The theme of the meeting was "Faith is the Power, Obedience the Price, Love is the Motive, Spirit is the Key, and Christ is the Reason." I was so powerfully touched by that meeting and it was a real lucky thing that we could have one! All the sisters from the mission got to go, and we met in the Asok building near the mission office.

Our branch building is actually the biggest church building in Thailand. It's where we have transfers each time. So it's been quite the adjustment to be actually going to church in it, because I've always associated it with transfers. So now everybody leaves from transfers and I'm like, "Oh. I actually live here."

Before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about transfers. President Senior does a good job of keeping poker-faces, making boldly hilarious comments, and keeping transfers move like an unexpected TV show where the "Ooo's and Ahh's" are most plentiful.

But this time was a little different. After what was the usual, I came across a sight I'd never seen! I have never sat in a more quiet transfer meeting, as President Senior announced the baffling and emotional news that the country of Burma, in particular, Myanmar, had been opened for the building of a branch and missionaries had been sent there for over two months now. Elder Steiner, who you will no doubt recognize through my early mission photos as a dear friend of mine from my MTC district classroom, and Elder Fronberg, from my very first in-field district in Udon, were called last transfer on a secret assignment to serve in Myanmar, where they had been the very first missionaries in history to go to spread the gospel. In November, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland had personally given the okay for the word of God to move to the last country in our mission's boundaries.

The work is hastening, my friends! I never thought I would be here in Thailand when such news made it to reality. One of the tiniest asian cultures in the world now has the opportunity to be blessed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I really love it here. After one year I have left the Eesan and entered the borders of Bangkok. I've only got a little bit of time, so it's time to get busy. Something I've really wanted to work on for the remainder of my time is ensuring that I turn out to be the person Heavenly Father would like me to be by the end. So my like 6 months here will be a move from not just changing behavior, but changing nature. It's time for consecration of thought, will and motive!

With the thought of my dear friends Elder Tatton and Yuen just barely leaving, it reminds me that my time is limited. When my sweet and cherished time is through, I hope to hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

So here I go! Stepping out onto the street, opening my mouth, and trying not to get hit by a bus. I love Bangkok so far. The pro's outweigh all the con's. And the best part? There are people here waiting for me to find them.

Little girl in the Big City  Sis. Painter

 They are sending me to the big city.

Monday, February 17, 2014

90 years from now

Oh Family! Hello! Sawadii!

So Valentine's Day was eventful. And by that, I mean it reminded me how single I really am, because me and my companion couldn't even comfort one another seeing as we were sick as dogs!! All day! From 6:30am I woke up thinking, "Uh oh. I ate some baddddd fish." And then shortly after, poor Embley hits her pillow again with similar groans and we were so drained of energy from being sick all day super bad, that by the time people brought food to us by 1:00pm, we shrumpled (not a word but a good description) to the front door, the member says: "Oh, man, that's too bad." upon seeing me, I take the parcel and slip back into outer darkness. We put the bag on the table. I take one whiff. I make a face only described by "It's not happening." and then Embley starts crying on the spot. It was so funny. Then, as a slip of the tongue, Brother Tongmuan accidentally thanked me from the pulpit for missing the Valentine's Activity. It became the joke of the entire day, "Thank you to Sister Painter, who didn't come to the Valentine's Activity.... and uhhh... well."

Two RCs are speaking at another one's baptism this week. That's way cool. So lots to smile about.

But also some things to be totally disappointed by. Not in terms of work, but it terms of truly heartbreaking circumstances. Sister Embley and I had an appointment to visit Nang's home and be with her family for dinner and finally get to teach her husband as she's wanted for so long here. He is the key to her being able to be baptized. So the food is being prepared (somehow) and we're all sitting and somewhere in the mix, the husband disappears looking really frustrated (they live in their shop, and the work there is tiring and stressful). Anyway, he disappears and Nang really wants him to be there. She realizes where he must have gone, and it's away to go drink. When he's frustrated and angry, he drinks.

So we have dinner. It's okay. That is, until her small 10yr old son Got realizes what has happened and his dad is not there and nowhere around. We eat somewhat solemnly as his mom teaches him that he has to use wisdom in all he does. He can't do what his dad is doing, doing without thinking of the consequences. I was literally sitting there hearing a mother teach her son doctrine, in a real life situation that is hard.

He didn't eat much. Then he slumped on the bench. A family came to buy some things and Got's mom was selling a few feet away, so he slumped all the way down on the bench. A little 5 year old boy came into the store and patted him in dismay, "What's wrong with Got?" The little thai boy frowned, terribly troubled over his friend, and the family left.

Got got up and perched himself where he could see the road better, as if he'd be the first to see his dad coming back home. He was heartbroken. I watched tears fall down. It tore me up. I called him over to my bench at the table, and eventually he came reluctantly. He sat down by me, and still looked far off. I told him,

"When I feel down, I sing. Do you remember the songs from church?" to which he nodded quietly. I said, "Are you a good singer?" he shook his head. "Do you like to listen?" he nodded.

I smiled and said, "I really like this one, it always makes me feel better." and I sang him 'I'm a Child of God'.

It made me really think. Do we know what our actions have on everyone else? Especially to all parents. That influence goes for both good and bad. I saw the righteous teachings of a parent vs. the actions of an irresponsible parent.

There is power in the prayers of a righteous mother. And there is consequence in poor examples. I see such light in that little boy Got that I am thankful every day for his mother.

“The Echo” by C. C. Miller

’Twas a sheep not a lamb
That strayed away in the parable Jesus told,
A grown-up sheep that strayed away
From the ninety and nine in the fold.
And why for the sheep should we seek
And earnestly hope and pray?
Because there is danger when sheep go wrong:
They lead the lambs astray.
Lambs will follow the sheep, you know,
Wherever the sheep may stray.
When sheep go wrong,
It won’t take long till the lambs are as wrong as they.
And so with the sheep we earnestly plead
For the sake of the lambs today,
For when the sheep are lost
What a terrible cost
The lambs will have to pay

In regards to everything else in my life, I feel spiritually happy. I feel at peace and want to work even harder than I have. I'm also pretty antsy! I've been here for 6 months so it's pretty for sure that I'm moving. I've been here for so long it's such a foreign thought to me that I'll actually ever leave RoiEt. And as my last full week here came to a close, I got to bear my testimony in the branch. When I sat back down, Sister Party was in tears. That's when I knew my time was used for good.

It will be so hard for me to leave this place. It has been my home. These are my closest friends. It is where everything about me changed.

90 years from now, I will be able track my testimony of tender, pure doctrines back to these moments of my mission. It will be tracked back to Plungjit road in RoiEt, Thailand. I will sit down with my picture books, journals, and scriptures and tell in a scruffy old woman's voice: "This little town changed my whole life."

And I'll know it just as well when I'm 90 as I did when I wore the tag.

Sister Monica Painter

Monday, February 10, 2014

I did good!

Dear Family and Friends!

Let's talk about Joe.

My most tender moment of the week was watching Joe on his baptism day. He is my testimony of why we go out walking the streets talking to everyone. We ran into him by a means of "chance" one day at the local park, the day before "Children's Day" (yes, it's an actual national holiday, recognized and celebrated by the general peeps of everyone here, which involves a large carnival for kids... pretty much in every city, for free.)

So the day before Kid's Day, we had 30 minutes before we had to be elsewhere. We decided to talk to everyone we could, including a group of over 25 or so students in a group. At first, english is an easier message, right? We teach english! .... But we feel like it's time to be brave. We now have the attention of all 25 of them, looking on the spectacle of 2 white girls standing before them speaking their language.

"Yeah, and this is baptism!"
We stood there and taught all of them about starting over and washing away all their sins. Eyes and ears intent. And as people are in what would become a LINE to tell me their names and phone numbers, an unassuming boy tugs on Sister Embley's arm. He asks her a lot of questions. I hear him, but I'm busy. He keeps asking, as if it could be his last chance he sounds so intent on the answers. He asks about the bible, whether we believe it, where's the church, this and a number of other questions. I finally turn to him, Sister Embley looking pale in the face as she catches her breath from trying to answer all his life-searching questions.

He tells me his name is Joe and that his grandmother was christian. He tells me she meant everything to him, and she has since passed. I tell him we won't forget him and that he should come on Tuesday for english and we'd make an appointment with him then.

He doesn't disappoint. He rides his bike, (which he later proudly explained that is self-paid for as he saved all the money her could to purchase said old bike) to the church-- what would prove to be a ONE HOUR RIDE. He arrives huffing and puffing.

He attends church in his brown pants and grey sweater. He stays for choir to watch. He eventually gets the lyrics and is singing along quietly in the back of the chapel, and before I know it he's up with the men in the choir in their row, singing with them. He later tells me it was the moment he felt the spirit the most significantly in his beginning seeds of conversion-- singing in a tone-deaf choir in the chapel.

He learns with us, and in our appointments, we find out about his hard life. Through his humble and meek words, we hear of the circumstances of his life-- and how all who he has loved and cherished have either passed away or abandoned him, and now he was living with someone who doesn't even really supply lunch money let alone love. But he said confidently with a smile, "But it's okay. Because the Lord has never left me. He's never left my side. Sometimes, when I don't have food or money, I'll pray and a miracle happens and I get to eat!"

..... I was humbled to the very core. His smile showed he was serious. He was grateful for every morsel and every blessing that ever landed in his path. He has never ending thanks for the Savior's never-ending care.

He believed in the Bible from the start. Then he finally began reading the Book of Mormon, and I asked him if he had received an answer. He said he did. But then carefully added that he wouldn't be telling me what it was just then, with a smile. It was enough for me to know that it was sacred to him and to reveal how he felt wasn't necessary.
So yesterday I saw him all in white. As we walked down the hall together I asked, "Are you nervous?" to white he looked me squarely in the eye and answered, "Only happy. I've waited a long time for this day."

I watched him be baptized, walk up the stairs with a smile on his face, and then we handed him his Spiderman towel. (Naturally.)

He sat on the stand, dressed again in his suit. He had saved such dress clothes for important situations, and his style is always remarkably hipster wonderful. White pants, white shirt, black and white necktie and a black suit coat. Classy. I see him carefully considering what he will share with the congregation for his testimony after the ceremony. As he went up and spoke, he vocally thanked the Lord over 15 times in the spanse of 15 minutes, for Christ's tender preparations and care for him in his life, a grandmother who had told him "Don't forget the Lord" as her dying words, and of course, for the sacred experience he had in asking "Is the Book of Mormon the word of God?"

He told the congregation with certainty that he had received a witness for himself. It wasn't God's voice right in his ear, but it was an overwhelming feeling that was beyond description.

He sat down, and what would be one of my most cherished and heart-moving moments of my mission, Joe turned his head back towards me, and sent me a glowing, radiant smile of perfectly clean innocence. In his most sincere and warm way he asked with two raised eyebrows, in all perfect meekness, "Did I do good?"

I could only hold back my emotion through a sincere nod of approval. "Yes, Joe."

So to quote Oliver Cowdery, I repeat: "I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion."

And so the work moves forward to seek out the elect.


Monday, February 3, 2014


Dear Family and Friends,

Well, if you want stories of car-crashes and explosions, this week is less on the fiery booms but more of the warm-wow's.

Yesterday the branch soared with a congregation of over 125 people searching for seats. I was incredibly stressed trying to keep a tally of who was an investigator and who was a less-active, and so on. There came to be 26 investigators in that room yesterday!

This week as I hit my one year mark, I got a little sentimental last night as I glanced around the dinner table at Sister Dograk's. house. When I arrived into RoiEt, it was me and 5 other missionaries at the table of food, which this kind sister would prepare for us each week and not linger to eat with us.

Last night I took account for how my time in Roi Et has been spent. How have I taken care of my part of the vineyard?

So as I went to leave last night from the home of this long-time-member family, I took a count of who was present. Six recent converts, active and sublime. Six investigators, all anxiously anticipating their baptismal days. Three very less-active members, one even graciously receiving his very first calling which as he came back into activity as a brand new priesthood holder, had prayed fervently to receive. An old family, a brand new member family, an investigator's mom, and a guitar.

All of these stalwart people, 6 months ago, had no reason to know each other. Last night they were a large family. 6 months ago I ate sweet and sour chicken by myself. Last night I took a large group photo (even some missing in it) after we had a full-on bar-b-que. We sang hymns to the guitar, there was infinite smiles, and one investigator texted Elder Trabing last night, "This was the happiest I think I've ever been in my whole life."

I could not contain my smile. I have loved and served these people with my whole heart. As my mission-prep teacher Brother Goodman (once a mission president in this mission) once said, resonating in my ears since he said it: "Oh, I love the Thai's."

I will take the opportunity to echo his profound and simple statement: Oh, I love the Thai's.

These are my friends. These are my family. They came from all stages and places of life and we rejoiced together at one big dinner table. They welcomed in our newest members, including sweet Dom who was just baptized on Friday, and her daughters, and her loving and supportive husband. At her baptism, a special musical number was given by Sister Dograk and her family: including her husband, daughter, and son: Fittingly, the song- "My Heavenly Father Loves Me."

No other thing could bring people together like the gospel does.

So when I think of my accountability towards a loving Heavenly Father: "How did you take care of my vineyard all this time?" I think to myself, this table wouldn't feel right if any of these people were missing.

"No man hath greater love than this: to lie down his life for his friends." I love these people, and I plan to spend the rest of my delicate and valuable time in their service. And while my days in RoiEt tick-tock off the clock, I'm still optimistic of what other portions of the vineyard need a good garden hose and a dollar-store shovel.

I've learned very well to trust "The Gardener Here".

Sister Painter