Monday, August 30, 2010

Carry On

It's been a good week. The work is still going incredibly and every week brings me closer to the time when I'll have to leave Antsirabe. This is a terrible thought. I love this place more than anything. It is seriously like heaven. So many good things happen but even when bad things happen, I say a quick little prayer in my heart, and then sing when we're cruising through the countryside and I feel better. There's me, blaring out "Carry On", "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel", or one of the classics, "Carry On My Wayward Son", "Don't Stop Believing" or any of the other Journey masterpieces that are my favorite when we are on our way home. You can really let loose when no one is on the streets at night.

Zone Conference is goin down next week. I was going to sing "Whole Again" but it is far too difficult for my pianist, Elder Raoilson, to play. As soon as he saw it he said, "It would take me at least a month to learn this!" So, after I email, I'm gonna go to Sally Deford web site and pick one of the easier hymnal arrangments.

We had a baptism this last Saturday, and it went great! Except, of course, for the fact that one of our kids didn't show up at all. That was a major bummer, especially considering that the family didn't even come to church at all the next day. Though disconcerting, we can't really do anything about it until Thursday when we go out into the mountains. They just live too far away for us to go out there with our packed schedules. I'm thinking that someone is sick, or an old relative died, or there was a giant party/meeting that everyone in the area attended.

I'm trying to get through the Book of Mormon in Malagasy, which is a fun challenge all its own. I understand mostly everything, except for the weird word that my dictionary doesn't have. At those points I have to consult my English scriptures and find out the the word was some old verson of the word wickedness, or floating in the air, or some strange conjugation of the word, stuff like that. It is so cool to go through the Book of Mormon in another language, seeing how the translaters went about their work. Most things are not translated straight across, because that would be kinda impossible. But, the general thought of the phrases is always there.

Not much out of the ordinary really happened this week, but we did have quite the pleasant suprise at church on Sunday. One of the familes of a group of three that we have been working with for about three weeks finally came to church. Woohoo! It was especially peculiar because at our last time he had said that they would try to come to church, but they probably couldn't because there was an end-of-the-month neighborhood meeting. But they came! And the best part was that father was so active and upbeat about the whole thing. There wasn't a nervous bone in his body. He answered so many questions during the investigator class that Sister Rabenjarisoa literally told him that he couldn't answer or talk anymore - other people needed the chance to talk too! But no one else knew the answers to the questions, so he went back to being the prime answerer.

The other really cool thing about this family is that they are Catholic. Most Catholic people we talk to are really accepting of our message and diligent, at their church. Generally the Catholics never change for anything. They'll accept the Restoration, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the whole sha-bang but they never take that next step. Their excuse is always inevitabley "Andriamanitra Ray ihany!" (God the Only Father!) That doesn't make any sense in English and by all means shouldn't in Malagays either, but what they are actually saying is, "God is the Father of all and it doesn't make a bit of difference where we go to church or how we worship, just so long as we believe." That's a lot of information in one little phrase, isn't it?

Concerns from last weeks email: I do have a headlamp actually, I just don't use it that much because the battery is always dying in it. Generally there is only enough life in the things to give me the blue light for any extended period of time. Though, I am definently recognizing the need for a flashlight. I hate more than anything riding through the mountains or over a thin strip of land beside a giant drop at night time, especially when there is no light from the moon. Riding through the many cactus walls in people's neighborhoods is not much fun either at night. Super super scary.

Thanks for the advice about the bulls. I didn't get chased again this week, which was a relief. But I was pretty much scared for my life every time I went by the bull running area. I found out why the bulls are so angry there. On the top of the hill there is the slaughter house :P. Me and Rakoto figure that they can smell the death and therefore get really crazy. I can't blame them though. If some aliens are leading me to the anal-probe room, I'm gonna be swingin my fists all the way. I forgive the bulls.

Miss you lots but I'll be home in no time at all. No time to waste. Have fun, go to church, eat good food. And don't be afraid to share your religious beliefs with the next guy.

Elder Cryer

Monday, August 23, 2010

Covered in mud, charged by bulls - and on top of the world

I'm tired. I'm happy. I'm so grateful for the sweet Spirit of the Lord that guides us in all things, if only we ask. This week was very hard and very, very rewarding.

Last Monday, we had a soiree de carte at the giant home of Frere Noel. I don't know what soiree de carte means, so don't bother asking. It is basically like a ward social at someone's house, with investigators being the main focus of the event. We ate some cracker-type things, slide show of Fr Noel's family, and watched the Joseph
Smith First Vision Film. It is the one that is kind of a visual representation of the prophet's story in "Joseph Smith History." I then had to translate the whole film for the people there. Talk about exhausting! Joseph used some pretty flowery language and pretty expansive metaphors that are close to impossible for a young missionary such as myself to accurately describe. Most of the time I was just putting the words of the movie into simpler, more translatable form.

Everyone here is dying, no joke. Death after death it seems like it coming to every family. It is common knowledge that when it gets cold, the old folks are at risk. To go along with all of the funerals, everyone is having their Famadiana. I really have no clue what that means, but it is when the families have a big, rock out with trumpet and clarinet party. They take all the bodies - that have yet to crumble into nothingness - out of the fasana (grave/monolith thing) and rewrap the bodies. Then they hoist them on to their shoulders and dance around. I heard about the grave dancing thing and here it is. No good pictures, but there's always next year!

We have two people getting baptized this coming Saturday. It should be a ball as all the other companionships are having a few people baptized as well. One of the kids is named Roland, and he is a hold-over from two weeks ago when his mom and brother got baptized. At the time he was deathly afraid of water and just would not be
baptized. But, the example of his family and a shearing haircut from his mother got him excited. Pretty cool, huh? The other is a girl who's mom is already baptized. She learned from the missionaries in Ambositra (two hours south) and is pretty much more mahay at the gospel than any Mormon girl at a Scripture Chase in America. I'm
really proud of these two and super excited to see them join their families in this most Celestial covenant.

In other news, I've been charged by bulls twice this week! Ironically, both times were at the same spot. For some reason, I guess the bull wranglers like to run their really pissed off bulls there. Who knows? They do it all the time! The first time I scrambled quickly up a steep hill that the bull couldn't climb. The second time, the bull chased me on my bike up the hill. Luckily, the bull handlers beat it into submission and got a rope around his neck before he caught me.

We had the wonderful opportunity to do service twice this past week. One of the events was a Mormon Helping Hands service party. All we did was go sweep up the public square in front of the train station that was already clean, then went and did a cleaning of the church. The other thing we did was help one of our investigators make bricks. Yay! That was super fun and definitely a cool experience. The guy named Zoe makes bricks for a living at a giant...umm...mud bank? Anyways, he gets about ten ariary per brick (.5 cents) and works like a horse. So we went there to give his rough, one-man brick making business some help. First we transported a giant pile of mud and then began the actual brick buidling process. At first it was hard getting the bricks into the mold and setting them down right. Then we got mahay and were bangin' em out like no tomorrow. By the end, we were completely covered in mud and had to go wash off in a what was pretty much a giant mud puddle. The Malagasies were amazed that a vaza would get his hands dirty and on top of that, be good at making bricks. I told them I was going to parlay my new skills into a booming brick business in America, and threw mud at all the gawking kids from time to time. Fun times.

As per usual, the best day of my week was Thursday: mountains day. It is by far the most tiring but has some classic characters as well as amazing indivduals in the mix. That night, we went to Fr Nirina's buidling and had an amazing experience. The lesson was about their marriage and their baptism date. I was having mixed feelings
about the whole thing, thinking that their date was just too soon. So, I asked them if we could all kneel down and pray, asking God when they should be baptized. They agreed and Rakoto offered the prayer. It was a sacred and holy experience for me and I felt direct communication and revelation from the Lord.

I don't know why, but this week I have felt like I am on the top of the world. Does this ever end? Do I really have to go home someday? I'd rather stay here and feel this way all the time. The work here in Ambohimena is indescribable. We have so many things on our plate that just planning is a trial. Church is a calf scramble with the 20+ investigators that we have to deal with, the different things that the presidency wants to happen, and so forth. I'm competely exhausted.

From time to time, I think Satan has tried to use this agaisnt me. For instance: as we are flying through the mountains in the pitch blackness, late as usual for our times, tired beyond comprehension, I get feelings of angst and feel ready to give up. Once I even said, "Leave me alone Satan. Let me do my work without your constant nagging." And ya know what? It worked. I have a testimony that temptation can be turned away from and cast out - if we but decide to do it. That's something I've learned that I would have loved to know when I was a snot-nosed brat in high school. We don't have to sucumb to temptation. We don't even have to endure it. Just call upon the power the resides within us all, tell that Corrupter to depart, and move on. He knows when it's a lost cause. Of this, I bear witness for I have seen it it my life and in the eyes of those whose lives have been transformed. Never doubt it. Have trust in God and he'll deliver you.

If I sound like I take myself too seriously, I'm sorry. I promise that I won't talk about gospel principles and break out into preach sessions all the time when I get home. It is just that, well, I'm on a mission. I feel pretty strongly about these things. These spiritual-related things are the most viable thing to me, everything
else is pulling along in second place. But that's how it should be, I figure. A mission is for metamorphisis, not stagnation.

Well, I can honestly say that I am exhausted and have run out of fumes. At this point, I'm running on the good, ever-present arm of the Lord. This week has been one of the most, if not the most, wonderful weeks of my life up to this point. All I'll say is: my mission has arrived. Here, I am.

I love you mom and dad, and family, and others who happen to read this. Miss you guys.

-Elder Cryer

PS: I think I might go to a place called An'Zoma soon and go ride some bulls bare back. It should be fun :D. I'll make sure to get a weak, old, frail one just in case.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A funeral, blessings and prayers

This week was quite interesting. The first thing that happened, on Tuesday, was that we all went to a funeral. That morning, our Branch President said that we needed to go and visit the family of the deceased and share a spiritual thought with them or at least comforting words. When we got to the house, we had to wait for a bunch
more people to arrive before going into the house. During our hour long wait, I was very confused at why we had to wait for these people. Finally, after everyone had gotten there, we proceeded slowly into the house. It was at this point I knew something was different.

This was not your regular old visit with a spiritual thought. When we walked into the house, I was greeted by the body of a dead, old, clothed in white, Malagasy woman who had died. We all took a moment to stare at the body and then faced the deceased's family, who were all sitting in chairs around the room. Of course, I ended up being closest to the body for the whole time. We proceeded to say five prayers, chant some things I didn't understand, and then say to each and every member of the family "Aza misoska alahelo intsony (don't feel sad anymore)."
It's important to go with the flow and respect peoples cultures and traditions. All in all....what an experience.

I got my B-Day package! Thank you so much! Sure it came over a month early, but who cares? Now that I think about it, I probably shouldn't have opened it until my B-Day. But you knew when you sent it that I'd open upon receipt, so ha. The package was perfect! Candy, slick ties, some other goodies, and and amazing camera. Alls I'm saying is, you guys never bought stuff like that for me when I was home....guess
the mission makes the parents love the son more! Lol ;P. JKJKJKJKJK

We had two baptisms this past weekend, so that was great. We have another 7 scheduled for the end of the month, so the work is absolutely booming here. In fact, our Antsirabe Zone got 26 baptisms last weekend. Crazy! On Sunday we got close to 30 investigators to church, which is far crazier. Maybe I'm working harder; maybe the
rumors were true about Antsirabe being better than anywhere; and maybe I just have no idea about anything. I do know one thing though, and that is that I LOVE Antsirabe!

On Saturday, we had what I shall now refer to as "The Night of Blessings and Prayers." At a spiritually uplifting time with Frere Nirina and family, as well as with Lova and Hiasana's family, three different people decided they wanted blessings for a variety of problems. It was wonderful and it will go down as one of my favorite
nights of my mission. The words were heartfelt and certainly directed by our Father in Heaven. At the end of the time, all fifteen of us kneeled down in that six by six room - how, I have no clue - and Rakotoniaina offered a beautiful prayer. It was truly a gift from God to see the gospel affecting people so strongly. I know that this Church is true and that the message we bring to people is divinely created and truly blesses lives. Experiences like that confirm my already-large testimony of such things. I love my mission, and, I love these people.

As we were leaving the apartment buidling, feeling on top of the world, we were stopped by one of our other investigators (we teach at least five different groups of people in that building). She asked us if we could come in and pray with them. Of course, we said. We went in to find the husband on the floor, completely wasted. The
mother complained to us about how he had a devil from the alcohol and they couldn't sleep at night because of his crazy behaviour. My companion looked at the drunk man, who was now rising to a sitting position and said, "Do you love your family?" The man said yes. "Do you love God?" The man said yes again. "Who do you love more: God or Satan?" The man laughed and said God. My comp proceeded to say that his partaking of alcohol was ruining his family and that when he did it he let Satan gain a firm hold in his life. "You cannot serve two masters." Then I prayed for them, all of us kneeling, and asked God to bless that man that he would have the strength to reject Satan and get his life in order. Then my comp told the man that when we left, he
should poor out his heart to God and find his solution.

The next morning, as we were greeting people coming into the church, you'll never guess who walked up. That drunk man who was without hope and without religion wabbled up, ready to partake in the fotoam-bavaka (prayer time). He still looked hammered, but he had a smile on his face and he knew he was in the right place, on the right path. I sat by him in all the classes - to guide him and to keep him out of trouble because I'm pretty sure he chucked a couple of brewskies back before dawning his church clothes. At one point during Sacrament meeting, I had the beginings of a judging thought. I instantly felt ashamed and was then filled with a huge feeling that even that brother, whom was probably drunk, was loved by God. I know that no matter how far we range from the fold, God will always love us, and desire for us to return. No matter how much we have rejected his will and fought to destroy His wonderous work, He will always love us and feel our pain. That's the gospel. That's the Atonement. That's the tree of life. That, my friends, is the pure love of Christ and the infinite love of our Father all wrapped up in one incomprehensible package. Someday we'll be able to repay him, but not in the conventional aspect. It'll be by becoming like Him, and the Son. That's how he repayed his Father, and that's how our kids will repay us some day in eternity. This is really the magnificent principle of the family, if you think about it.

Thanks for the advice about training. I wrote a big thing about that, but then all the computers shut down and it erased my email.

Well I miss you paps and mama, and I love you. Take it easy. It's freezing here!
I love you guys and pray for you unceasingly.

-Elder Cryer

Saturday, August 14, 2010

No caption needed
Bite-size bananas
Into the Zone
Ivato Church

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rocking and rolling

This week has been quite a spiritual journey for me. I've prayed a lot - a lot and hard. I've read the scriptures, searched the holy writings of the Church's leaders both past and present, looking for answers to my questions. I feel very at peace now and am really not worried. I'm trying my best to be Christlike, which means I am constantly repenting.

In other news, I've gotten back into running and am trying to lose some weight. Antsirabe is not really the best place for losing weight or eating with any kind of regularity healthy foods, but I'm gonna give it a go. I'm tired of the pudge.

I'll answer your questions first. The Relief Society is probably one of the strongest entities in Mada. Since there are so many women in the church here, there is no lack of good, strong women. Usually the Relief Society President is a very smart, leadership-oriented woman, also is usually well-off by Malagasy standards. Some of the women hardly have money to feed their many babies with a bit of rice a day and have no choice but to go to church with no shoes on. These people, though wonderful and absolute daughters of God, have not the resources to keep up with such a demanding calling like RS Prez.

The only white members in town are just the few vaza missionaries who work here. I think that a lot of French people have come down for a nice vacation during the summer break. Pretty much none of them speak English; a lot try to speak to us because it seems like we know what we are doing. Fortunately, I can't speak French well and the attractive tourist girls don't speak English or Malagasy (ha!) so I
have no opportunity to flirt with them :)

We were eating in a hotely (little restaurant thing) when a big group of French people walked up looking for some grub. They saw that some white people were in our hotely, so they came in as well. After trying to communicate with us in broken English and French, they soon realized that they would have a tough time getting any food from the non-French-mahay staff. It was great. They spent so much time arguing and trying to make the host understand, that they sat there forever while we finished our meals. Needless to say, they were amazed to see us speak in Malagasy. Everyone from outside the country just thinks, "O. That's that weird tribal language, who cares about that anyway? Besides, the tourism guide said that 90 percent of the people are mahay tenfrancais." Hehehe, that is not exactly the case.

There are currently ten missionaries here in Antsirabe with three houses for us to live in. I live in the house with the two Malagasies and one Congolese. Gino, Taggart, Bingham, and Smith live in the other. The sister missionaries live in the luxurious basement of the house of the Tahitian mission couple. Luckies.

This week was pretty wonderful and also pretty stressful. There are a lot of things that I am trying to tweak about the area. So far, the Lord has not told me to not do these things, so I feel fine about it. We taught a lot of lessons and had a lot of investigators at church, which was of course especially rewarding. We have three -four baptisms this coming Saturday. I say three to four because one of them is a nine year old boy who is afraid of the water. Saratra izany. I don't really know how to deal with such a thing, so I guess I'll just pray really hard and find out.

I'm getting better with the bike, though I fell a lot and one time my comp crashed into me. My legs hurt really bad and I can still only do short little sprints before becoming exhausted. Sometimes I shoot past my comp with a burst of speed only to be caught ten seconds later because I tire easily. Hopefully by the time I leave here, I won't be quite so bad.

To answer one of your questions that you have asked many a time but I have always forgotten to answer: yes, yes we do get fed by people a lot. Sometimes it is only a boiled root called mankahazo. Othertimes it is a plate of rice with anything from beans, to straight animal fat, to simple leaves on top. On occasion, it is a giant multi-course meal from a very well-off family. I love all that is given to me and I
really think that the best things I've eaten have come from soirees. I was worried about the whole "I HATE VEGETABLES" situation before my mission. But when I got here, I prayed and dug in. Ever since, almost no matter what I've been fed, it has been delicious. O the Lord has some interesting powers.

At a baptism for some of Elder Tagart and Gino's invesigators, we had a major problem. All of the Branch Presidents were out of town and they were the ones with the keys. So, Elder Tagart decided to climb up the side of the DHL building that is connected to our church and break in through one of the windows. I steadied the gate as he scrambled up it and mounted the roof. All seemed well as he crawled across the
sheet metal surface of the roof. Then, he disappeared from sight in a giant rucus of sound. I just looked at the ground and thought, "O crap." Within moments, Tagart was back up and crawling. He looked very non-plused. After reaching the windows, he simply stated that he had indeed fallen through the roof, and that is was irreparable. Fantastic.

Long story short, we could not actually break in and eventually found someone to unlock the doors. We went upstairs and discovered the giant hole in the roof. As of now, there have been no demands for payment for the damage. But, we are ready and I for one am expecting the angered call to the zone leader any day now. Good times when
ya rock and roll.

On Thursday me and Rakoto went out to this area called Andrangy. He neglected to tell me this tidbit of info before we went, but the area is actually in the ever-lovin mountains and filled with horrible paths. Awesome. This was the day my bike broke a lot and I ate the dirt a lot. From the traveling aspect, it was one of the worst days of my mission. There were also some other frustrations. All of our times
were only thirty minutes long and there was at least a 10-15 minute journey between each place. So we were flying between times, sharing spirtual thoughts and very shortened lessons. That part of the day, I hated. I love having longer times were I get to know the people.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, frustrated, and kivy be. The last thing I wanted to was bike out of the mountains to go to some times which we were already late for. O how happy I am that we went. That night we had a time with some long time investigators named Nirina and Lovy. They are awesome, very strong testimonies and very ready to help us with referrals and what not. The only problem with them is that they haven't been legally married (though they are now within days of that goal). They've got some other challenges too.

We sat them down and talked it out. It was easy to see that their real problem was their own personal relationship. They obviously love each other. When it came for counsel time, I went straight to the heart of what I saw. I told them straight up that it wasn't problems with alcohol, tobacco, etc that was the problem, but it was their relationship. We talked a lot about what they could do different and I counseled them about being wary of one anothers emotions and feelings. I even talked about you guys and said that you were such incredible examples for me of how a married couple should behave.

In the end I challenged them to make a covenant with each other and with God. By working together, they could help each other avoid the harmful substances that were plaguing their lives. They accepted whole-heartedly and Nirina even said right there and then that he would never do those things again. His wife had tears in her eyes as she said to him, "Thank you so much. Are you really going to do this?" By
the end of the time, they seemed to be a completely different couple. I felt the Spirit so strong. It is things like this that testify to me that this is the
greatest time of my life thus far.

Well, I love you guys and will talk to you later. Eat some nacho cheese
chips for me will ya?

Elder Cryer

Monday, August 2, 2010

Big day in Ivato Ward

Elder Echsler and I, together for only about one month

415 lbs. in a pous pous

Well here I sit in a cyber cafe in Anstirabe. It is very cold right now and we have to wear sweaters everywhere we go. Ivato got cold from time to time, but never like this. I wake up in the morning, nice and warm because of our probably over-worked heater, and step out into the hallway. Then the frigid blast hits me and I just wanna jump back in bed and stay there for the rest of the day. Fortunately for the work here in Ambohimaina, I have never submitted to such temptations. To compound the cold, there is never any hot water here in the tub/shower/thing so I freeze to death every time I take a shower. Talk about pure misery.

My companion does speak English, if you speak slowly and supplement with a lot of Malagasy. Most of the time though, we just speak in Malagasy because it it easier. Rakotomalala, one of my other housemates, doesn't speak a lick of English and his companion, Oyukuo, can hardly even speak Malagasy because he is from The Congo. Needless to say, we don't talk much, occasional, really simple, phrases from me in Malagasy from time to time is about it.

I ride a bike eveywhere I go so, that has been fun, but very painful. My bike seat is in an uncomfortable shape and there are a lot of different things wrong with the poor beast. After a soiree we have at lunch today, I think I might take it to the bike guy and have it fixed. Overall though, I like riding a bike much more than walking everywhere and riding packed taxi-bays. My comp is a pro at bicycling, so I am usually about twenty yards behind him, huffing and puffing and trying not to fall over and die.

The best way I can describe the main part of Antsirabe is this: it reminds me a lot of a small town in Utah or Idaho. There are not many cars, so that is different, but it is still the nicest place I've seen. There are lots of white people here, which is weird, and it looks like they have a lot of restaurants. Anstirabe is, for a lot of missionaries, a dream area. The work here goes excellently (as our four baptisms last Saturday and three this Saturday testify) and the members are such a blessing. They really are the reason that the work has gone so well here in Antsirabe. Referrals come in fast. Our schedule is so packed. On the whole it is great.

The ride down to Anstirabe is a story in and of itself. Me and Elder Smith - the
other elder who came to Antsirabe at transfers - got a a little tiny and way overpacked taxi-bay on Thursday morning. The ride was pretty long and pretty uncomfortable. In my seat was me, Smith, and two other Malagasies with all of our backpacks and what not. Keep in mind that this seat could possibly sit three very small people comfortably, or two large American boys. As we drove though, we saw some
amazing things and some of the prettiest landscape I've ever seen in my life. Every now and then, we'd pass through a village or see one out on the mountain slopes. Once we saw a bunch of naked guys bathing in a river right by the road.

Finally we got to Antsirabe and met Elder Bingham - the zone leader - and loaded all of our luggage onto a pouspous. Another name would be rickshaw, if you were in China. So me and Smith got in one tiny pouspous and the other pous got our bags. It was pretty rough going for the runner because 415 pounds sat behind him. Later in the
day, me and Smith took a pous to the local Shoprite. As we climbed in, the runner said, "This is gonna be hard, you guys are heavy!" He then proceeded to grumble a bit more, lift the pous up, became overwhelmed by trying to keep down our weight, and dropped us flat on our backs. Apparently this was the first time that anyones ever seen this happen, so it was quite hilarious ;P.

Ok well I'm gonna go now. I love you guys mucho mucho. Wish me luck.

Veloma - e!,
Elder Cryer