Monday, March 31, 2014

Week 33 - A Little Goes a Long Way

Aloha all!
Everything's still going great here in Hawaii. We just keep teaching and baptizing!
For this letter I wanted to talk about the importance of tithing. Tithing is kind of a big deal in our branch because of the fact that we're only a branch. In order for a branch to become a ward, there has to be at least 15 full tithe payers. Our branch averages around 200 people at sacrament meeting every week, but we are still a branch because almost all of the members only pay a partial tithe.
For our fifth sunday discussion, our branch president talked to the adults in the ward about tithing. He drew out the average income for a Marshallese household and after paying rent, electricity, and tithing, there was only about $400 left for everything else for the rest of the month. That includes gas, car, food, clothes, and everything else you might need. The Marshallese people are very poor, so you can see why it's hard for a lot of people to put that much faith into paying their tithing. It would mean possibly going without food, or not having enough gas to get to their jobs.
A lot of them also feel embarrassed or inadequate because their tithing wouldn't amount to that much. But our branch president gave a really good example by sharing the story of the widow's mite. He said that our Savior had a deeper love and respect for this woman, not because of the amount which she cast in, but because of her willingness to give everything she has to the Lord. He told his disciples that with those two small mites, the widow had cast in more than any of the others. Because the others gave of their excess, but she gave all.
I really feel so blessed and humbled to work with these people because of the sacrifices they make for the Lord. There are many times when the members don't eat with us, because they are giving up their dinner to feed the missionaries. They put their best food out, even if it means they might not eat for a couple of days that month. I feel like the world could learn a profound lesson about charity from these people. They are so happy when they have so much they could be unhappy about.
Relating this to tithing, we need to put the Lord first. In D&C He says "I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise". If we pay our full tithe, regardless of the circumstances, the Lord has promised us that he will open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing, so much that we won't have room enough to receive it. In those same verses where that promise is found, it also asks this question: Will ye rob God?
I like to teach the principle of tithing by telling the people that the Lord has given them all that they have, and he's only asked for a little bit back in return. We should be more than ready to give at least 10% back to Him, as a sign of our gratitude, and willingness to obey.
I know that if we put the Lord first, he will always take care of us. If we show that faith, then he will bless us in ways we could never imagine.
So it may be in tithing, or it may be with something else. But I hope this week you'll all remember to put God first!
Elder Merrill

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week 32 - Splash Zone

Aloha everyone!
This week I had another baptism! His name is Bima. He's about 15 years old and has been taught by the missionaries for months. His parents were baptized about 2 months ago, but he didn't feel like being baptized was right for him at that time. But when I came into Waipahu he really started to progress. I was able to resolve his concerns and get him to tell us things that my companion couldn't get him to say before. To me it's just another testament that missionaries are put in every area for a reason, and supposed to meet every person for a reason.
It was kind of crazy when I baptized him. I was standing in the font, and we rehearsed what was going to happen, but I think he got too nervous. We told him to just kind of sit down, plug his nose, and relax and everything would be okay. But when it got to the time to actually baptism, this kid turned into Free Willy. After I said amen, he jumped and arched his back, then went completely stiff, and didn't even plug his nose. He's kind of a big kid so I had to jump to the side and grab him as he was going down, which almost pulled me into the water, then his belly still wasn't under, so I was shoving his body under the water with my other hand. Definitely not the most graceful baptism I've ever seen, plus the people watching probably felt like they had front row seats to Sea World, but all that matters is his desire to follow Christ and that he made that essential step.
Along with baptism, I want to stress the importance of the sacrament. As missionaries, we repeatedly tell the person how great it's going to feel when they get baptized, because all of their sins are washed away. But I think far less often we fail to realize that we have this exact same chance every week!
I know how easy it can become for the sacrament to just become routine. Just bread and water. Just another thing you do at church. But it's so much more than that. We've all heard that the bread represents His body and the water His blood, but that's about as far as we go. When you take the sacrament, it's representing that you care about Christ's atonement so much, that you literally put it inside of yourself. So that He can always be with you.
I heard a story about a kid who was sitting in sunday school. The lesson was about the prophet of God, and he said to his teacher "I wish I could meet the prophet of God" She then told him that she had met the prophet and shaken his hand, so he could shake hands with someone who had shaken hands with the prophet and indirectly, shake hands with God's prophet. Upon shaking her hand he said "I'm never going to wash this hand!" Thinking that didn't sound like such a good idea, the teacher told him he could wash his hand, and just remember the act always. He ran into the bathroom and came back a few minutes later with water dripped on his tie. The teacher asked him where the water came from, and he replied "I washed my hands, then drank the water so I can always remember this moment!"
We should be that excited to take the sacrament every week. To want to take the bread and water so bad, so that we can remember Christ and like the prayer says, to always have his spirit to be with us.
Also important is to spiritually prepare ourselves to receive such an ordinance. I think it was an apostle that said: You can tell someone's relationship with Christ based on their thoughts when they partake of the sacrament. We shouldn't just mindlessly eat and drink, but instead really think about the Atonement and the effect it's had on your life.
I hope this coming week you'll all remember the significance of Christ's atonement the next time you put that little piece of bread, and small drink of water inside of you.
Jeramman wot wiik in!
-Elder Sammy Merrill

Monday, March 17, 2014

Week 31 - Be Thou an Example

Hey everyone! I hope all's well back home.
Today I wanted to share an experience I had with a guy we met out on the streets. We were walking to one of our appointments, and some guy called out from his car "Hey Elders!" So we turned around to see this Hawaiian guy stumbling out of his car with a beer in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. He came up to us and said "I went to the most Mormon high school in the entire state. Kahuku." Then he went on to tell us how almost all of his friends were Mormon and how he knew a lot about our church. He told us he'd even studied with the missionaries before.
Then he told us about how a bunch of his Mormon friends would always ask him to buy their beer for them and ask him where the big party was that weekend. Then he told us about how he respected what we were doing, because all of his friends told him they didn't want to go on a mission and they were only doing it to please their parents. He basically told us that there was no need for baptism, because he could already live that kind of life without being a Mormon.
For me, it was just really sad to see the negative effect that his friends' example had on his life. Especially if you look at it from the opposite point of view, where if his friends had been excited about going to church and on a mission. If they would have tried to bring him to the gospel, instead of him bringing them to parties. If they would have lived the kind of lives they should have been living, then this guy probably would have joined the church and been living a completely different kind of life than he was now.
Just imagine in the next life his friends having to face him. Having to face the fact that they're the reason he didn't find the truth and happiness he was looking for in this life.
This whole being an example thing makes me think of something that Elder Holland told all of us missionaries when he came to Hawaii. He was talking about continuing to be an example once we're home from our missions. He said that, as a returned missionary, you'll be the idol of every younger child you come across. And that if you return home and go back to doing stupid stuff, everyone aspiring to be like you will just think that they can live that kind of life without serving a mission. I swear I could see fire coming out of his eyes when he told us "You don't have that right. Those are my grandchildren, the future of this church, and you don't have the right to be anything except the perfect example".
So far on my mission, I've seen the best things and worst things come out of the examples of others. Especially in Hawaii I'd say the youth have the hardest time with this. When there's one of our youth that are strong no matter what and always a good example, they help bring a lot of people into the gospel. But when there's a youth that's not so strong, that's willing to bend, it causes people to not want to listen to us.
Jesus told us "be thou an example". So I'd challenge all of you to do the same. You never know when someone might be watching, but be an example of standing as a witness of Christ at all times, and in all things, and in all places.
Elder Sammy Merrill

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week 30 - Aloha

Hey guys!
So this week's been another week of working hard and teaching lessons. It gets really frustrating at times, but that's why it's important to just keep moving forward. Like our investigator that's closest to baptism. He's been taught everything and comes to church every week, he's just waiting for his parents to come back from Arizona. But they've been denied a flight for two weeks in a row now because they're flying with buddy-passes and I guess everyone just wants to come to Hawaii or something. (can't imagine why, it's only paradise;) Or another girl, who we set with a baptismal date, then she randomly dropped off the face of the earth. She doesn't answer our calls and every time we stop by nobody's home.
The Marshallese people are really funny. We knocked on this one family's door and said "Aloha! It's the missionaries" then we heard footsteps running and the old ladies in the house saying in Marshallese to go to the back room. We kept knocking and finally someone cracked open the door and peeked out. Then my companion said "Iakwe! Na ij bar rimajol!" (Hi! I'm Marshallese too!) Then they lady replied "Oh....iakwe..."
I want to tell a cool story that we heard yesterday in church. There was this white couple that came to our congregation yesterday. Everybody noticed them because they stick out like a sore thumb in a chapel full of Marshallese. So we went and talked to them after sacrament and asked them what they were doing here. They told us that they were adopting a Marshallese baby, and that they could actually use help translating because they didn't know Marshallese at all, and the lady hardly knew English. So we went and helped them translate and work some of the details out. The guy told us the story about why they had decided to adopt this boy. He said that he had an experience where the spirit told him that he was supposed to adopt two boys and their names were Jacob and Joseph. The spirit said they were in Seattle and needed to be adopted, so him and his wife started the adoption process. Within a month, their attorney contacted them saying that he had a boy that they had found. He was a two year old Marshallese boy from Seattle and his name was Jacob. They knew right away that it was meant to be. (right now they're also working on adopting Jacob's cousin who hasn't been born yet that they plan to name Joseph) As he told this story, the spirit in the room was so strong that the couple, and Jacob's mom were all crying, even though the mom didn't know what was being said until after we translated it. They didn't find out until after they had already made the decision to adopt him that the mom had been baptized about two years ago. When they asked her what values she wanted them to be sure to instill in Jacob, she replied that she wanted him to grow up strong in the gospel, to serve a mission, and to become a leader in the church.
I'm not telling this story to say that kids need to be adopted, but rather that God has a purpose for everyone. I don't know what Jacob has in store, but I'm sure our Heavenly Father does. He sees our potential and does everything he can to help us reach it. We all have a purpose here, but can't always see it. Sometimes we get lost, or are put through hard things and wonder what the reason is for all of it. God know us, perfectly. Meaning that He knows exactly what needs to happen for us to fulfill our purpose. He won't always give other people visions of what they need to do to help us, but he has given us the Holy Ghost. Which in my opinion is better. And it's when we learn to heed the promptings of His Spirit that He can strengthen us and help us grow.
I hope we all strive to do what God needs us to do.
Elder Merrill

Monday, March 3, 2014

Week 29 - Spreading the Aloha

Iakwe aolep!
It's been another busy week here in paradise. We keep setting more people with baptismal dates and really see the work progressing! We have also been seeing so many blessings in our area.
Like on tuesday this week we went to this place called the Pupu's to contact former investigators we found in our area book. But because I'm new to the area, I accidentally turned down the wrong road and neither me or my companion noticed. We were walking up and down the street and saying things like "whoever wrote the addresses on these teaching records must be blind, cause none of these numbers exist!" Not realizing that we were on the wrong street the whole time.
As we were walking, determined to find these people, we heard "elders! Come bless our house!" So we walked over to these kids who claimed there was a ghost in their house and wanted us to bless it. So we said a prayer with them and gave them pictures of Jesus. We told them "as long as you've got this, the ghosts can't hurt you". Then we asked them if they knew any Marshallese people that lived around there. They replied yes and showed us the room that the Marshallese family lived in. We went to the house and they were having a party! The Marshallese really respect the missionaries, even if they don't respect the church. So they invited us in and gave us some food. We started talking to some people, and found people willing to have us come back and teach them! And we also found someone who knew some of the people we were looking for in the first place!
I feel like although we were on the wrong street, it was for a reason, because there was people that we needed to see there. I really feel like that a lot as a missionary, where the Lord puts us in situations that we are supposed to be in to help somebody come to know of the truthfulness of the gospel.
Working with the Marshallese people here has really given me a different perspective on life too. To the Marshallese, family is everything. They're willing to sacrifice everything they own, if it means helping their family. Just this past week, we were talking to a member (who happens to be the person that translated the BoM, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price into Marshallese) and he was telling us about some of the members in the branch. In the Marshallese they have a class system. There's the kings, the Iroijs (lords) and the rijerbal (working class). In the Marshall Islands if a king or iroij asks for something like food or money, you have to give it to him. Also when you walk by you have to bend over so you're physically lower to the ground than they are.
Anyway, so while talking to this guy, we found out a member in our branch is a king on one of the islands. So we went over to talk to him about it. He told us that if he went back home, he could live in luxury and have enormous wealth, but he's willing to sacrifice it all because of his family, to give his kids a better education and a chance to get a decent job.
As far as worldly wealth goes, the Marshallese have none. But they're rich in the areas where it really counts like family bonds and faith in Christ. I feel so blessed to get to work with them.
I hope you all have a great week and recognize the things our Heavenly Father has blessed you with that really matter.
Iakwe, Elder Merrill