Monday, February 21, 2011

From the highs to the lows

This week we had a variety of things come our way. Getting a load of people ready to be baptized this Saturday was amazing, advising some kid about pilot training in a mixture of English and Malagasy, working the exhausting governmental system to try and get one of our most diligent couples married and baptized, having people try to cast US out of their houses - remind me to speak on this at a moment when I have more time on my hands - teaching families like it's our job...uh is :P.

I've got a low story and a high story: one of the most unusual and horrible experiences of the week took place at a seemingly harmless rice-shack at night. Going to have ourselves some good old rice and loaka, we bought a couple of sodas and mossied our way over, sitting down for our meal of hoped for delight, our minds were far from the horrors which awaited us.

The plates came to the table, and we dug in like the famished wolves which we are - permit the exaggeration, por favor. Within moments I noticed a bean an espacially strange shape. Reaching into the stew, I pulled the morsel out for a closer examination. To my utter astonishment and gag reflex, a medium sized roach lay in the palm of my hand. At first I thought, "O dear goodness...Why me?!" Then I showed Elder Slater, and we laughed about the predictable horribleness that sometimes greets us in the country. Then, setting the roach aside, we went back to work on our meals...why, after seeing the roach in the stew, we carried on eating, I will never quite be able to answer.

A minute later, Slater found some sort of non-at-all-appetizing crustation of dubious origin swimming around in his loaka. We pressed on, despite the double warning. The third and final sign, I ate my last bean in my loaka, only to find that the bean was a fraud. Within the soft shell of the bean, was straight up rotted meat!!!!! No explanation, are yo kidding me?! Needless to say, that hotely has been put on the blacklist mandrakizay.

Another, far more pleasant happening which I'd like to write about occured just this morning. Last week, about Wednesday or so, we some how managed to make our way out about an hour by car ride from the center of our area, in pursuit of new investigaters. Instead we found glorious vistas, sheer cliffs, stunning sights, and the actual rainforest. Seeing as the hour was getting to be late in the day, we
committed ourselves to come back on Pday, equipped with water bottles and hiking shoes.

And return we did. This morning a couple of our District mates met us at a half way point in Analamahitsy, and we then continued on out to the mountainous area in what is called the Anosy farotra. Taking a variety of trucks, cars, taxis, and just plain walking, we made the usual hour journey into a nice 2 and a half hour journey. Upon
arrival, we took pictures at some of the interesting architecture we found in Ambohimanga (the name of the village) and then decided to climb up the mountain, with thoughts of good picture oppurtunities and adventure on our minds. What we found was a little bit different than what I had expected.

Perched on top of the mountain was an actual fort from the times of the Malagasy royal family, feudal period. Of course the fort had already been turned into a giant park to trap tourists who had made their way so far out off the beaten path, so there was an admission price. The Malagasy in our group, Elder Ravelomahefa, only had to pay 200 ariary while we had to pay the exorbitant fee of 7000! An outrage! We
shouted, wailed and gnashed our teeth - again, exaggeration for the stories sake - we fought long and hard to bat the price down to a reasonable level. The fact that I actually have a Malagasy identification card did not seem to sway their stance in the least. The vazaha pays the vazaha price, was their statement. After long discussion that was somewhat heated at moments, we relented and payed the vazaha price, despite the injustice of it all. Kings tombs, ancient houses, artifacts and weapons dating back to 1500 AD. It was really quite the park they had set up there.

We swiftly declined the expensive tour guides, declaring that we did in fact speak Malagasy, not French, and that we were not in need of their assistance. An hour later, however, I did manage to get one of the workers in the park to tell me some
sweet stories about the ancient kings, spilled some olden times gossip about the royal family and such. Overall, it was a neat experience. But the final swoop of the expedition came when we went to a huge cliff that literally was above the entire Antanananrivo valley, and overlooked everything for as far as the eye could see. Talk about take your breath away! In the end I struck up a good conversation with some rich French and Swiss guys who were somewhat good at English. A fine day indeed.

And now, I must needs bring this email to a close. I miss you all, but not that much seeing as I only have eight months left to go. I guarantee I'll be more sad when I leave this place, knowing that I may never return and will probably never see any of these wonderful people again.

When I am too tired to pray for myself, I always pray for you guys. I love my family more than anything in the entire world, and I hope that life is movin at the speed of light for you all - it sure is for me.

Still praying for you, still doing The Work.

Elder Cryer

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Passing and Shooting

My new Malagasy name is: Rabemanantsoa, as gifted to me by the figurative mother of the Sabotsy Namehana Branch, Sister Bertha. The name literally means: Rabe-the important one, manan-who has, tsoa-wonderfulness or goodness. Elder Slaters name is Rabemananjara. Elder Slater and I are still together, for two and a half months now. It is certain now that my companionship with him will tie with mine and Elder Horn's for the longest of my mission at a grand total of three months. Elder Slater is from Colorado.

At the begining of the week we met with a very cool, older couple named Julian and Jelien. After we had started the time with a prayer, I asked them if they had any questions about their readings in the Book of Mormon or in the other pamphlets. They said no, but that there was one thing that was troubling them which they needed to speak to us about. Apparently, their younger nephew who goes to one of the private schools nearby their house saw us leaving his uncles house after the completion of one of our times. Soon after the nephew approached his uncle to tell him the the Mormons were the worst bunch of folks there ever were. Wicked lies, such as torture and killings, were all mentioned by the kid. As most people would feel I'm sure, Julian was extremely worried that maybe that's what did go on at our church! He told the boy that the gossip about the Mormons didn't sound too accurate, as he had already had a lesson from the missionaries and it was wonderful. Then he told the boy that he would talk to the Mormons himself and figure it out, also stating that he could do what he wants and let anyone into his house that he pleased (the boy was saying, "Don't ever let them come back!").

When Julian brought these concerns up to us we first called his nephew a liar - I couldn't resist - and then showed him pictures of what a usual church service looks like. There fears eased, they promised that they'd be at church on Sunday. And come they did. For the entire three hours that proclaimed up and down that they would be coming into the church, meaning getting baptized, as soon as possible. They said that church service was great! and that they knew the church to be true. During the elders qourum meeting Julian stood and bore testimony, and so great was his testimony that there was a round of applause from the members! These people are incredible, and it'll be a huge blessing to have them in the church.

Slowly but steadily, the church is growing in the Sabotsy Namehana Branch. This past Sunday we didn't even have enough bread and water to give everyone the Sacrament, there were so many people who showed up! We just got a new Sunday School President, and new Young Mens President, and several priesthood ordinations through, including one Melchezidek priesthood holder. The organization and leadership is shaping up nicely, leaving more room for others to learn to take on their roles in this glorious church. I love being a member of this church which is learning and responsibility based. Just got out of your sophmore year in college? Get ready to be an Elders Quorum President. Gets already dropped off at school? Welcome to the Relief Society Presidency. Often we are not even in the neighborhood of being ready to fill the positions we receive, but when the Lord calls, He prepares as well. Ready or not beforehand, that Lord will bring you up to speed if you are only humble and teachable. He will lead us by the hand if we will just follow. It has been so cool to see recent converts find themselves barely treading water in leadership positions, and then to see them get up in new knowledge and experience, passing and shooting with the rest of the team (waterpolo reference).

Similair things have happened to me often on my mission. Training when I didn't even know the language myself, leading areas when I am the only person in many miles who speaks English, and then taking the role of Lehnhardt translater. This is the last straw, I thought. For a few days before I left Antsirabe, worry and nerves threatened to crush the life out of me. When I finally got to my new area and had to translate for a Branch Presidency meeting, I was positive that the time for my death had come. No longer could I just fake my way through understanding and speaking. The time had come to understand and comprehend every word that's being said. For the majority of my mission before that, I only understood vague ideas when people started into talks or disertations, not really paying attention because the task was just too difficult.

The whole translation business may not be the one for me long term, but it has definitely shown me an interesting side of life and work. I don't always understand everything thats being said, or translate everything I hear with exact perfection. But on the whole, I can play my role as translater every Sunday effectively, because the Lord decided I was ready. One of the most exciting times for me is when I get to translate the Lehnhardts talks and lessons to the congregation. At that point I have no choice but to press on, no time to think, no time to worry. It is quite a think-on-your-feet kind of activity. It is fun to get creative and search for the words and ideas that can properly explain what is being said into my ear. Sometimes no one understands what the lesson is really about, even me. Deep doctrine discussion from the Pearl of Great Price is a treat all its own when being taught to a room full of recent converts and investigators who don't even really remember who Joseph Smith is. But we always make it through, feeling uplifted and strengthened in the end, even if the whole "light of Jesus Christ powers the sun and the rest of the universe" thing is still a bit unclear to the majority of us.

Business, just to ease your worried minds, the SD card only just got sent last P-Day. I hope you guys are all well and nothing terrible bad has occured with any of you.

Elder Cryer

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chicken Spit, Snakes and the Plan of Salvation

So this week was very interesting, but not neccesarily as explosive as last week. One of the best things that did occur this week, however, was that a lot of the potential for growth which we observed in our investigators last week has come in large part to fruition this week. Many bap dates were handed out and promptly accepted. The 26th of Febuary will be a big day. When we talked to Joel yesterday about getting baptized, he immediately said,"If I could be baptized in five minutes, I'd do it. I know this church is true, and I know that I know enough to make this
covenant." And believe me, he does know enough.

Last Saturday we went over to his house to teach him about the Plan of Salvation. The tables got turned when we found out that he already got himself a copy of the missionary teaching materials, and had learned it completely. When I asked him what the term "Plan of Salvation" means to him, he proceeded to teach the entire lesson to us. At that point me and Elder Slater looked at each other, laughed at the hilarity and amazingness of it all, and then tried to find something else to teach him. In the end I ended up having to take Joel on a tour of the creation as we have it from the Book of Abraham. I couldn't leave empty-handed, so the deep doctrine got whipped out for a nice, and long, chat.

We've been having more adventures with the animal kingdom this week, but mainly with those of a creepier variety. Snakes, spiders, and all things crawly got in our way. The first thing that happened in this regard occured last Thursday at the time of Lova, Lalaina, Hasina, and Parany. As soon as we came in, Lalaina was bawling her eyes out and obviously distressed. Hasina refused to come into Lalaina's house because there was an uninvited critter lurking around. As soon as I heard the words "biby lava (snake)," me and some of the other neighborhood guys found the snake hiding in a length of pipe. I was one for shaking the snake out of the pipe and then cutting him to pieces at the first oppurtunity, but the Malagasys wanted to burn the guy alive.

The took the pipe and put it over a fire for a good five minutes, trying to get him to drop out. After feeding the fire to get the flames up higher, old snakey-boy decided to try his luck on the outside of the searing hot pipe. Out he came wriggling and slithering for an escape. The snake was maybe two feet long or so, pretty thick for his length, and of a variety that I don't know at all. As soon as the snake started making a break for it, the Malagasys backed up, not sure what to do. I remembered dad killing a snake with a shovel on the street in front of our house when I was little, so I put the same principle into action. Grabbing a knife off of the table, I stabbed for the head, trying to stop the snake before he could get away and cause more havoc. After a few stabs and slices, the body stopped its wriggling, its head having been removed. As the Malagasys say," Ny biby tsisy loha, tsy mandeha." Translated: The animal with no head, cannot go.

We also saw tons of poison spiders and centipedes this week, but that's another story for another time. Sufficeth to say that they do exist, are deadly according to some sources, and chicken spit can cure every ailment known to man. O, if only the worlds leading medical researchers had the knowledge of the common Malagasy man.

Madagascar is still pretty much in its hot mod, but things are cooling down fast. I remember last year at this time, it was absolutely miserable! Scourching! But now we usually have a good amount of cloud cover, rain to wet us down whenever we want - and especially when we don't want - and the temperatures seem to be pretty mild. So much for the whole global warming thing. As far as I've been able to tell, the seasons' worst just got pushed back a month or so. For awhile, Mada was in turbo drought (mosary? I don't remember how to spell that word in English anymore...) mode. Everyones crops were dying and the prices for fruit and vegetables were sky-rocketing. The rain has been a welcome rest from the dryness and a blessing for anyone that has any interest in eating food.

My ear drum is fine, just weird. I am pretty proficient at not getting a drop of water in it. Thanks for the Valentine package. We all tried the candies and were blown away - Sweet Hearts really did a bang up job. Also, I was very happy to see the rest of my paratoopers come in with this package. I officially take back all of
the rude things I've said about the postal workers of Madagascar. Well, only half because they did steal the twenty bucks. Garr...

I was gonna write about the translating aspect of my mission, but my time is gone. Next week, perhaps.

I love you guys so much and pray for you like no tomorrow.

We have become very efficient chicken catchers,
Elder Cryer

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Filled With Spiritual Lessons

This week was a fairly fantastic one. There's many things I'd like to share about what happened, but because of time I'm going to be limited to only a couple. One of the more mild, yet interesting, things that happened this week occured just yesterday at a time with Joel and his family.

Elder Slater was teaching a room packed full of people about the prophet Joseph Smith. He is still a pretty young missionary, so when he came to the First Vision, he tried to hand the time over to me. Because I wanted to see him go for it, and I was feeling slightly lazy, I told him that he could do it. He turned back to face the people in the room and launched off into the final portion of the Jospeh Smith story. At that time I started prayng in my heart that he would have strength and that he would be able to quote the First vision accurately and powerfully. Up till that time, he had never been able to quote the whole thing. But this time, it was different. He charged off into it, not skipping a beat, not even pausing to think of what the next word was. The Spirit was there to testify to the people of the account's truthfulness, and I know it was there to help him do what he had never done before. It was amazing.

Also during my prayer, I asked God if he would bless us with some kind of food during the day, because it was Sunday and we couldn't buy anything and our usual lunch appointment had canceled on us. I asked that if it was His will, to please give us some food, somehow, someway. The very next time after Joel and Co., we went to a time of a lady and her family who had just come to church for the first time
that day - we had only found her a week ago. We walked in and they said, "Eat!" We quickly declined, not wanting to steal any of their precious, and in short supply, food. But they said, "Really, we have tons of food just for you guys! It's all ready! So come eat!" Not wanting to deny the invitation another time, and not wanting the miss the blessings of the Lord when they are staring you in the face, we sat down to a huge meal of rice and ravitoto (squished up grass). It was really good, but the best part came when the woman's husband - whom we had never talked to before that time and who did not know we were coming - said, "When I was making the rice and ravitoto for lunch today, God told me to make way more food then usual, because we had vistors coming. I usually never make this much rice and food for just
me and my wife" - and it was a ton of food - "but the Lord just told me to keep pouring the rice into the pot. And here you are, the visitors the Lord told me to prepare for. But really," he said with emphasis, "I never ever make this much food for just us!" Now that's a miraculous answer to prayer if I ever saw one. I know that a prayer of faith can turn the world around, move mountians, and even get some grub in your hungry belly when you are in need. Just believe.

Transfer news is coming out today, just so you know. Elder Slater is probably moving on, and I am probably training again. For fourth child, he shall be. Specifically, my second son. I'll give a full report of what goes down next week....

The last story which I will share is one of the best I've ever had in my entire time here (which generally far exceeds anything I experienced in America). Elder Slater and I went to our seven o'clock time with a fmaily that we had high hopes for. Before we could even open the time with a prayer, the mother of the family said matter-of-factly," So I remember you guys saying last time that we needed to come to yalls church when we received an answer to our prayers about the Book of Mormon." We nodded our heads. "Well I gotta tell you that," she continued," we are not going to be moving churches any time soon. In fact, we're never going to switch churches. Ever. We really like you guys and it sure would be swell if we could keep learning from you guys, but we have responsibilities in our church."

At this point I asked her if when she truly received an answer to their prayers about the Book of Mormon, a 100% solid answer, if they would come to our church. She said emphatically, "No. Never." Then I asked her that if God came down himself, and he proclaimed to her personally that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true church on the face of the Earth, would she move churches then. To this she said, "No. I'm a deacon at my church and no matter what I cannot switch churches."

To this we bore our testimonies as powerfully as we could, invited her and her family to come to church if they ever changed their minds, and left.

Walking for five minutes down the road towards what we taught was going to be our last time, we heard someone calling for us behind. "Please stop! Wait!" she said. The woman who sprinted towards us in the pouring rain was not someone from the family which had just been dropped, but was another lady who had come to church the Sunday previous. We hadn't been able to find her house during the week, so we had just hoped that she'd come back to church. As we walked towards her house, she was literally crying and saying, "I'm so sorry...I'm so sorry. I was just so sad that you guys weren't able to come to my house on Thursday. Since that time I've been crying and absolutely devastated. I prayed to God so hard that I'd be able to find you guys somehow so that you could give me the Word of God. I'm so happy I found you now!"

Just to clarify, had we not walked out of our rotten-egg appointment, this woman would not have seen us. She never would have in fact, because we are almost never in her area and she never comes to the places we usually frequent. This is another example of an absolute answer to prayer. When we got to her house we taught a time that was one for the record books. The Spirit was almost tangible in the room, which happened to be filled with 11 people, plus 2 in another room who were standing at the window to their room which gave access to the one we were in. Hiantra, the women who had chased us down on the path bore testimony to everyone there that the church was true, and she knew it by the power of the Holy Ghost when she came into our church building. Incredible. This women had not even had any kind of a lesson from us
before this time.

At the end of the lesson we all prayed together, and I asked them to pause for about a half a minute after the end of the prayer, in order that the would be able to feel the Spirit, and know the will of the Lord. For about a minute after the word "Amen" we all sat perfectly still, eyes closed, drinking in the power of the Holy Ghost. It was fantastic. Afterwards we asked everyone how they felt and they said things as, "Light." "Free." "Excited." "At peace." "I feel the Spirit, and I know that you," pointing at us," are messengers from God." We've been doing this 'pause after the closing prayer' a lot lately, to amazing results. The Spirit cannot be stopped in such circumstances.

Dad, good luck on the backpacking training. I remember quite well when one year ago, I first came into country. At that time I was tired all the time, hungry, disgruntled, and especially, my feet were turning into swollen balls of blister. It was horrible. One vivid memory I have is of me taking a knife to the back of my heal, to open up the enormous blisters, and finding that the skin was a quarter of a centimeter thick and the blister structure had blossomed into multiple levels or 'chambers'. It was a ghastly process and quite painful as well. For an entire month I had to wear mulitple layers of socks on my feet to try and bring down the level of movement in my shoes. So....I hope your blisters aren't anything like that!

This week has been filled with the most spiritual lessons of my entire mission, along with several miracles of garden variety and one of extremely unusual happenings.

Well that's all I have time for now. I love you guys and pray for you all every single day. And this past week has shown me, more than anything else, that within prayer there is power.

Love Always,
Elder Cryer

PS: Please tell Brother Krampota thank you for the Christmas card he sent me. Give him my best wishes!