Monday, July 28, 2014

The Missionary - One Week Left

Dear Family and Friends,

To quote someone I met this week, "The story I am about to tell you is real."

Let's begin by saying that the events that occurred this week have been a sound and tender testimony to me that God is invested in his work, and more importantly and specifically, in his children.

I'm going to tell you the tale of three different people: Neang, Bom, and Faa.

Brother Neang is a tall and lanky fellow, about 40 years old, and when we moved in, he had just quit drinking. We taught him every day since we arrived and he would memorize the things we'd teach him and relate them off to us to ensure he remembered, seeing as his drinking and smoking had been a habit for over 30 years now, he works hard to retain information.

He announced that he would be quitting smoking in Elder's Quorum with a tender testimony. He quit that very day. Over a course of a week longer until his baptism, his radiance meekness and love for the members poured over. He memorized evemryone's names, and between his 4 teeth and sloppy accent, each hello and name was always said with such sincerity until everyone loved and supported him in his effort to be baptized.

He has been someone who has wanted baptism more than anything else in the world. His passing of his interview ended in a jumping jacks victory, his baptism held so sacred, his testimony as if from Nephi's own account.... a record of his birth onward: 'my mother and I sold bananas on the street corner and we were very poor....' for quite a long time until Elder Wilson texts me from the back, "How long can he go for?"
Anyway, his baptism ended in a beautiful "If you could hie to kolob" arrangement on the violin from Sis Jackson and Elder Wilson on the piano.
As I came up to greet him and give him my congratulations, I was shocked and overwhelmed to see him in absolute tears, holding his hands up in a "wai". Brother Mac had his arm around him while he was so tenderly taken by the spirit.

I have never seen a person so grateful in my entire life.
Seeing him in this way made countless members begin to cry until all present that day were convinced that nobody would forget the 'value' of being baptized. Because one unassuming lanky man showed us exactly what it should mean for us.

The next man is that 23 year old nurse I had told you about.

We spent the last week teaching him everything. And I mean everything. He was ready for everything. All the way through temples and missionary work. Let me just say-- teaching those things before baptism give people vision. I am so grateful the First Presidency has us teach that now. When they understand the temple and the whole picture, the Plan of Salvation becomes an "on earth" reality to prepare for that Celestial reward. We're teaching people to prepare to live in heaven, essentially.

Bom was that radiating light on the street. This sunday he will be a radiating white on the stand.
There are people out there that have been prepared for missionaries.
With that said, the last story I wish to tell is about the person who said the quote from the very beginning of this email. Her name is Faa.

On Saturday Sis Jackson and I found ourselves lost. Not necessarily lost on a map, but lost on where we should go. As we'd move and change places, we just had no feelings whatsoever, just that our minds were fogged over and where we were wasn't the right place. . .. at every place we went.

The day became frustrating as we finally decided that we'd just head back to the church for our lesson at 4pm. We traveled back and all through this walk I'm thinking back to two days before when an old man member outside the church who I've just barely seen for the first time over-zealously tells us how we should be inviting people. He said, "Just tell them exactly who you are! That God sent you to find them and that he loves them. Tell them that."

On this particular saturday afternoon in Asoke, the roads were practically bear because everyone went home or elsewhere for their day off. Not an ideal place to look for lots of people. But here we were making our way back to the church, talking to each person as they passed, getting waved off at each time.

We come to a girl in a over-sized black sweater who has headphones in. She doesn't hear what we've said to her, those earplugs are in so loud. She says, "what?"

We invite her and she looks at us again, feeling incredulous as to what she has just heard. "Wait, wait, what?" she says with wide eyes.

I remember what that old man outside the church said. It pops into my head. I say it.

"We're representatives of Jesus Christ. God sent us to find you. You must be someone very special because we're looked all day for you."

An appointment was scheduled immediately, and she walks back the way she came? She has no explanation as to why she was walking that way anyway.

It later hits 6:00pm on the nose and she arrives in the church. She finds us and we take her around. She tells us that she has been to a different church before and felt something more was to be found from Christianity, as she had never been certain about Buddhism.
Our lesson was filled with the spirit. More than I can say. She drank up every word and the truth of the restoration beamed brightly. She told us she knew it was all true.
As we sat on those chapel she confirmed her feelings about the Holy Ghost and that she had felt it before. ... very recently.

"What I'm about to tell you really happened, okay? You have to believe me." She begins, clearly overwhelmed by how surreal this day has been for her.
"Back when I went to that church long ago, it was because a boy had a dream that he needed to take me there. In my life I've suffered a lot of toothaches in the last 3 years. Two days ago I had a terrible toothache that had been lasting for a while. This time, I remembered going to that church and thinking that Jesus Christ loves us so much, and that he has the power to heal us. Without realizing it, I had began praying and I told God, if you heal me I will change my religion.

The next day she was fully normal. No problem whatsoever. She said, "I had no reason to believe it was God who did it, but... I knew it was him. I knew it."

"Today you stopped me on the street and told me you were looking for me. That God sent you. I believe you."
I have never been so sure of God's hand in his work, and the authority and reality of a calling to be a missionary.

It is as real as the name-tag you see plainly on our chest.
Sister Painter


Monday, July 21, 2014

"The Keepers" on red ground

Dear Family and Friends,

I officially now live a "Devil Wears Prada" life.

Let's back up and explain this. On Monday when I wrote last I was living life as normal out in the farm lands eating my sticky rice and pork on a stick.

Oh, well, that has certainly since changed.
There was a mini moves transfer and naturally and unexpectedly, according to "the unorthodox workings of the spirit", Sister Jackson and I moved together to an area that what was once known as "the beast".
I now live in Asoke, Bangkok.
If you want to map that, it's called "Din Daeng". Din Daeng literally means, "Red Ground." My days are now filled with zooming taxi's, light-rails, foreigners, and thousands and thousands of people swarming the streets. Not only this, I live a block from my mission office. So every day as I pass our beautiful lot I think to myself, "I sweep these streets because President Hinckley promised us a temple on that piece of grass."

And then we fly. We teleport from here to there to picking up this and that, all the while looking people in the eyes on the streets to find who we're missing. Over a course of a couple of hours, you probably talk to over 1000 people. In that sift, you find those who are ready.

So as we finished out inviting one day on the streets, we were coming back to get some food- oddly enough harder to find than anything else in Bangkok. But just as I crossed the street, right outside that plot of land that will one be the temple, was a sharp looking young man with his headphones in. I glance at him, then Sis Jackson moving towards what would finally be a meal on the side of the road, and before I know what has happened I have stepped right in front of him and I am showing him a baptismal card.
He pulls out his headphones instantaneously and I look him in the eyes. He is, of course, the last person I would talk to, as so many missionary stories go. And I am grateful that I followed the prompting almost unknowingly.

His name is Bawm. He is a nurse at a prestigious hospital here in Bangkok. He has no Word of Wisdom problems whatsoever, and his sister lives in Salt Lake City.

And his light shined on that Bangkok street brighter than any billboard that day.

I think we never really know what is in store for us on this ride of life. I can certainly say that at the beginning of my mission, at the very start, I could have never looked ahead and seen what I have or prophesied anything I have experienced. As a new missionary you are excited, nervous, not sure what to expect, lots of questions on the mind, optimistic, and ready to go.

This week I gave my bike away. I gave it to a Thai Returned Missionary named Elder Wilamas (or now, Brother Ice.) He is the Branch Mission Leader in Ubon. The night we came down to Bangkok, we looked over all our bags, bikes and things. We quickly realized two sister missionaries arriving in Bangkok in the middle of the night with all this stuff was not going to happen smoothly.

So Brother Ice, one of my dearest friends on my mission, bought a ticket and hopped aboard. My 33rd and last all-night bus ride, was accompanied by someone who has given everything for the gospel. He came in whatever he was wearing and dropped all of his plans with friends and for starting a job. He saw a need and he came to the rescue.

I love the thai people. I love this country with all my heart. I have seen people change their lives and give everything to be true disciples of Christ.

This week I so tenderly saw that in the bright eyes of the five new Thai missionaries from all over Thailand that just got back from the Phillipines MTC. It is hard to describe the feeling you get around brand new missionaries. I have never seen so much faith, so many eager questions, as I did with these sweet Thai members of the church that had newly put-on nametags. One of those new elders was someone my MTC companion had baptized, here one year later as a missionary.

As I was around them I felt a sincere and real difference between when I had once taught with them as ordinary members of the church here, and when I picked them up from the office to take them home with us as new missionaries. Their anticipation and enthusiasm and questions were over-flowing and the spirit that surrounded them was undeniable.

And so, with the enthusiasm and optimism of a brand new missionary, I embark my last three weeks in this land that I love. We're hitting the ground running. Here in Din Daeng the dirt may be "red", but it can be white as snow with the gift of the gospel.

"The field is white already to harvest."
The field has been white where ever I have been. Of that, I have never doubted.
But here in Asoke there is more than just harvesting to do. There are a lot of recent converts here. More than anywhere in the country.

The beloved prophet who dedicated this land and that plot for the temple was the same man who said that if we baptize and do not hold on to the fruits of our labor, then our labor is pointless.

So we have become "keepers". Keepers of light. Keepers of souls. And rescuers and as well finders.

  1. Brightly beams our Father's mercy
    From his lighthouse evermore,
    But to us he gives the keeping
    Of the lights along the shore.
  2. "You may rescue, you may save."
  3. Love,
  4. Sister Painter


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rise and Shine

Dear Family and Friends,

Well, I asked President Senior was I should write about this week, and he suggested that I write and say that I was, "resigned to my hungarian-child crib with illness." .... Thank you President. Inspiring.

But it's true, I was.
I got way sick, and that got really depressing after a while of seeing little change.

But then I decided to get up.

I decided that I was done feeling sorry for myself. My days were up to me, and I didn't have to be 'resigned' to anything, especially feeling sad.

I want to talk today to anyone who feels that they are doomed to what "destiny" has in line for them. Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, anybody, regardless of circumstance, can be changed, lifted, and set running again.

My friends, we all fall down.
We all get scrapes. Heck, some of us break spiritual arms, so to speak.

But the beauty of the gospel is that broken things can be mended. "Broken minds can be mended as easy as broken bones." -Elder Holland. If you remember back to the Bible story of Christ healing the man with palsy, you'll note that He did it to show that he could heal physically as well as spiritually. For, as He said, "Which is easier?"

Now let me ask you a question. Which is easier, a quick mend or a transformation? A band-aid on a cut, or a shape-shift to a new creature?

But even better than this, even better than a mend, is a transform.
Better than broken pots glued together is a collection of the pieces thrown in a furnace, reheated as clay, and reformed as a new being.

The atonement both has the power and ability to both heal us, and enable us.

Anyone who has ever used it knows what that power entails. It's not just for sinners, it's for anyone who wants to know the truth.

My friends, the atonement has the power to convert you.

When you feel sad, that is never the moment to give up on your righteous desires. That is never the moment to stop going to church, or seminary, or institute. When you are sick, you go see a doctor.

Our spiritual doctor is the Lord Jesus Christ, and his atonement is the medicine and remedy for any infirmity.

This last week I got to see the peak of what would become one of my most precious mission stories. The last couple of months, I watched a brother who was convinced he was going to go inactive on his return home from his trip. He came to Thailand on a vacation with his mom and sister "kicking and screaming".

He slowly opened up to some activities with the branch, and then began helping the missionaries teach. He started finding his own investigators with them on the street. Before we knew it, he had a planner, a bike, and was riding with the Elders everywhere. Yesterday he baptized a man he taught.

I saw the change in this young 17-year old. And better yet, he saw the change in himself. He began to call the mother he once fought with, "แม่ที่รัก" (or my beloved mom) in her native language, which brought her to tears of joy.

Watching the atonement heal investigators was the faith-instilled medicine for him. 'If it could happen for them, why not me?'

I know that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true and living church of the Savior.

He is our Savior because His atonement is real. You could say, "I believe it because I've seen it." Not with my eyes, but with a discerning heart. I've seen it happen to others. I saw it with this sweet brother. And even more than that, I've seen it happen to me.

It can happen for you.

So all who feel bedridden, whether spiritually or otherwise;

...rise and shine.

Sister Painter

Finding the 4000

Dear Family, Friends, and... well, whoever you are!

We really need to talk. I have a story to tell.

So we remember the story of Jesus Christ "feeding the 5000", right? Today I'm going to tell the story of the beginning of a journey.

I'll call this embarkment, "Finding the 4000".

I took my 31st overnight bus ride into the street lights and traffic sign local of Asoke, Bangkok. What that means is that I have spent over one month of my mission sleeping on a bus from 10pm to 6am.

....Moving on.

So we arrived at our Mission Leadership Council meeting and by the end President had laid out a vision. We have baptized so many, and last year about 2500 people would come each Sunday across Thailand. After the take-off and the hastening, 3500 people.

"By the end of this very month," he concluded, "the Lord God wants 4000 people attending church each week across Thailand. He can do it, but that's not all. That is very different than the statement, He will do it. .. And he will."

We arrived home filled with faith and desire to help our zone catch the vision placed in our hearts. 500 more people in 4 weeks? Where on earth are we going to find 500 more people? That would mean that we need to baptize the same or more AND rescue those who have fallen at the side of the road.

The following Saturday would become a last opposition experience for me, where nobody I called gave me a definite yes on church. By the looks of things on Saturday evening, the odds weren't in our favor.

But we didn't ask for luck. We prayed in faith.

If there is one lesson that I have learned in its absolutely clarity on my mission, it is that faith precedes the miracle.

So on the evening of July 5th, that Saturday night, we set up the chairs in the chapel with the Elders.

Before we knew it, we had filled the room with 150 chairs.

Members came in and out watching us and helping, saying, "Why do you keep putting out more?" knowing that last week there was a total on 89 people in that room.

But the 150 chairs remained. Who would fill them? No idea. But we knew that room would be filled.

Beginning of the month, July 6th-- Fast and Testimony Sunday morning. The air crisp, the breeze slightly cool. The doors of the church stayed open as if welcoming arms.

And oh, did it welcome.

I am a witness that "faith precedes the miracle."

Families I had not seen my entire service spent in Ubon appeared as if from the dust came back like they'd be coming the last ten years. Faces I'd seen in my area book were standing right in front of me. I knew their names! Where had they been?

From my translation table in the back with my microphone and headsets, I looked out across what would appear to be an ocean of people. I saw the room full. Members, old and new, investigators, children, a newborn blessed baby, 2-baptismal candidates, a girl waiting for the Holy Ghost confirmation, families since lost, families newly baptized, families just barely found....

...and two orange-robed Buddhist monks.

That's right. You heard me.

A Phillipino man arrived early, saying: "Two months ago I met two sister missionaries at a market, they invited me." .... Two months ago. The miraculous thing? I saw as I walked passed something that caught my eye... his hymn book! What the...? He's not an investigator! He's a member! Since he was 14! He had lived in Thailand for 3 years and had no idea there was a church here.

Oddly enough, he had received a prompting this week that it was his time to go back to church, and he promised himself he would.

I testify that God plays 4-dimensional chess.

The ocean of 148 souls I looked over differed in every stage of their lives, whether young in age or young in faith, or neither. I mean, there is the oldest woman I've ever seen here who has out-lived us all on both aspects.

But amongst all these I felt stood angels on our left and on our right.

A higher power had brought these people here, not us. It was the faith.

We simply set out the chairs.


Sister Painter
(my companion Sis. Jackson)