Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Keep Your Shoes On

Tao ko,

Well to start off this spiritual email I would like relate the following experience of how I learned, the hard way, that I need to fear God more than man. 

Last week we had our zone activity with the missionaries. As zone leaders we're in charge of planning the zone activity and there's a lot more at stake then you might think. Missionaries will judge and rate how effective of a zone leader you are by how fun your zone activity is. Knowing this I wanted to have a awesome zone activity that would be remembered. Be careful what you wish for. 

There's a place here in Baguio City called Camp John Hay, it's a old US army base from the 60's and now it's for public use. Well they have this field that is isolated and is surrounded by hills and trees, but there's a huge flat plain in the middle. So if anyone had a real childhood they would instinctively know that this particular venue is perfect for Capture the Flag. Filipinos are not familiar with this amazing game that revels true character and skill. I decided to take the risk of having that as our zone activity. So we met as a zone at Camp John Hay early Monday morning (our P-day). The skies were a little cloudy and a GIANT cloud of fog came across the field and it was AWESOME. I explained the rules and we split up into teams. Elder Y picked all the fast Filipinos and Americans on his team and I had all the Samoans and Tongans on my team. You can obviously see that I'm more experienced in this game. After my team and I did a Tongan warrior dance of intimidation we started the game. Well, as the game went on all the Tongans and Samoans took off their shoes because they could run faster and it's kinda part of their culture. Knowing of the untamed field and the visible sharp rocks and sticks on the ground I decided against it. But my Polynesian team told me to take off my shoes. I know it's really not a big deal but I wanted to be accepted and part of this Island Brotherhood. So, it didn't take long for me to succumb to the peer pressure to take my shoes off.

This was probably the most intense capture the flag game I've ever played my whole life. With the natural elements like the fog and rain and the fact that the losing team will pay for lunch, we played like champions (Tongans will do anything for free food). As the game went on it came down to me and one Tongan elder on my team, Elder T, we were the only ones not in jail. With our fellow brothers in jail I told Elder T to stay and guard the flag and I charged out to the other teams flag. Okay I know we all are aware of my athletic ability but for some reason I ran faster. I was untouchable. I dodged through trees and ran past everyone and grabbed the flag and headed strait back to our side. As I was running back, I felt my foot step on something but maybe it was the adrenaline or maybe the Tongan cheers I heard, I didn't feel anything in the moment. As I dived to our side my team ran over and picked up to celebrate the victory and that's when we noticed my foot was completely covered in blood. (Mom stop reading here)

I sat down and then the pain hit me when I saw the side of my foot. I'm going to spare the details but when I saw the flesh and fat hanging out I wanted to throw up. But of course I'm trying to look tough in front of the sister missionaries and not look like a sissy in front of my Polynesian teammates I didn't scream or cry when they dumped cleaning alcohol on the wound. I went to the emergency room and remind me next time to tell you what hospitals are like in the Philippines. They stitched me up and I was good to go. 

(Mom you can read now)

So now I probably should tie this into some spiritual insight but only one scripture can come to my mind. It's in the Book of Mormon when the prophet Jacob said simply,

"Oh be wise, what can I say more?" (Jacob 6:12)

Obedience brings blessings, that's true. But it also brings protection. When we go to church as a family, when we pray consistently and study the scriptures, we're blessed with more spiritual knowledge and guidance but we're given protection too. Angels will guard us. The Spirit will be there to warn us. Sometimes amidst the busy things of life we feel comfortable not saying our nightly prayers or reading the scriptures everyday. We don't feel that guilty if we miss church or don't do service this, "one time." We get comfortable and fall into the peer pressure of the world and the temptations of Satan....we take our shoes off, so to speak. And we find ourselves walking on dangerous ground. Things that seem innocent at first could cut or hurt us the most in the long run. Samuel Johnson once said, "hell is paved with good intentions." 

I want to bear my testimony that when we do the simple things; pray, read the scriptures, worship at church, and serve our fellow man...we are putting on our spiritual shoes. I love this gospel. I love being a missionary. I know through Jesus Christ anything is possible. I'm humbled that the Lord is trusting me in a small part of the vineyard here in the Philippines. I feel focused and I've never felt this much joy in my life. I love my family and they are in my prayers constantly and I hope they always have their "shoes" on. Keep those prayers coming and I'll see ya'll soon.

Your Valiant Missionary,

Elder Strader 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dog Does Not Taste Like Chicken


Well the weeks are just flying by so fast. My Tagalog is getting better and I'm trying to learn Cebuano (another dialect here, Elder Y's native language) so I can communicate better with my companion. Well rainy season has officially started and it was really fun the first 2 days...but now I'm sick of it, no I'm literally sick because of the rain. It rains so hard everyday that it puts Texas rainstorms to shame. 

Earlier this week I went on exchanges with a Elder that has been struggling with getting lessons. His name is Elder Flutey-Paramore. I'm not joking that's his real name. No it gets better, his first name is Apollos. Mom why did you give me a boring name like Jaren? Well, Flutey is Samoan and he's HUGE, but he has a even bigger heart. When we opened our exchanges and I had Elder Flutey-Paramore read the definition of what the definition of a lesson is in Preach My Gospel. What is it that you need to have a opening and closing prayer, teach 1 or 2 principles and extend a commitment. It doesn't say we have to teach people in house or teach a long 45 minute lesson. So we decided to focus on teaching short and powerful lessons. Lessons that are simple, clear and they feel the Spirit and then we leave so the investigators feel the difference when we're there and when we left.  So we did that and we had a killer day! We taught people at bus stops, outside their houses (because they didn't want us in their homes), we almost taught a guy in a public restroom. It was a wonderful day and we both learned a lot.

I love you guys. Thank you so much for the emails and prayers. I know this church is true. I know why I'm out here. I know Jesus is the Christ. He is my Savoir. I love ya'll and I'll be home soon. 

Your Valiant Missionary,

Elder Strader

Monday, June 8, 2015

June 8, 2015

My People,

I'm sorry that I couldn't email last week! We had no connection because of a tropical storm...but the good news is that I'm not getting married with a random Filipino woman. See mom, I told you I would take of care of it. 

Well I just had one of the best, most emotionally and physically draining, intense weeks of my life. But it not only changed my mission, but my life. Let me explain why;

After our Mission Tour, President Balledos gathered all the zone leaders in the whole mission for a meeting. President wanted to change the mission. With that in mind, he decided to change our Standards of Excellence, which means our goal of number lessons that we should achieve each week. It's broken up in different categories but its intention is to push the missionaries and make sure we're working effectively and we have a goal in mind. So for our mission the goal was 25 lessons each week. And one of the burden of being a zone leader is you get a crappy area, because President expects that the leaders in the mission should be able to have success in those hard areas. So President told us that he wanted us to get 40 lessons in one week. Now let me back up for a second. Elder Y and I average about 20 lessons a week. When I was in Aringay, I was getting 35+ a week no problem. So, when I heard the challenge and knowing the stats of our struggling area, I'm scared to admit that I kinda doubted that it was possible for our area at that time. And then President told me something that I will never forget. He said,

"Elder Strader I'm not talking about numbers...I'm talking about faith..."

That hit me hard. Feeling a little ashamed of my lack of faith I prayed asking my Heavenly Father to help me to achieve the 40 lessons to help change the mission and my area. I asked him to give me strength and help me with my unbelief. I promised that I would be exactly obedient and I would put my 100% and in return He would bless my efforts and make it possible. So...we went to work.

Elder Y and I worked the hardest, I think the hardest we've ever worked in our lives. We fasted everyday the whole week, we prayed hard, we planned more effectively and we talked to everyone. Every time it got hard I kept saying out loud, "can't stop, won't stop." Once I explained it to Elder Y in Tagalog that became our companionship motto for the week. People were prepared for us and the lessons just kept coming. When we got our 40th lesson late Sunday night, I wanted to cry and shout praises to the Lord because I knew for a fact that we had witnessed a miracle. All the glory goes to Him because through Him...anything is possible. 

I want to tell my family that I love them. I miss you all so much. I miss mom's cooking and our inside jokes. I miss the random wrestling matches in the kitchen to the deep gospel discussions with dad. I miss Brennan and us watching Netflix till 3am. I'm still not sure if I miss Maddie or not. I'm kidding I miss Maddie and her personality. I miss Donovan and his happy and obedient attitude. I miss playing on piano with Sydnie and Emyrie dancing. There's a lot of people and things I miss but...if I didn't come out here I would be missing out on a lot more. I love being a missionary. I love the Philippines and the people here. I love my Savior and I know He loves me. But I know He expects a lot from me and because of that...I can't stop and I won't stop sharing this restored gospel that has brought so much joy to me. 

I'll see ya'll soon.

Your Valiant Missionary,

Elder Strader