Thursday, February 4, 2016

Snail Mail letter Feb 4, 2016 to Casa Grande 3rd Ward

My family,

Here's the letter to the ward you requested.  It pretty well sums up my mission until this point.  I hope it doesn't sound too self-centered.  I was mainly trying to stress how unique my mission is, specifically when I wrote everything I've seen and done.  It's not a perfect letter, but I hope it's what you wanted when you asked for one.  Just be careful when reading it to the ward, so you don't drone through it.  I put as much emotion as I could into it, while trying to keep it as short and detailed as I could.

Elda Van Wagenen

Casa Grand 3rd Ward,

I have been in the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission for just over three months now.  There are four islands with missionaries right now: Santo, Makelula, Tanna, and Efate, which has Vanuatu's capital city, Port Vila.  Port Vila is the only city in the country with an international airport, and all missionaries in the mission, including those in New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, pass through the captial, whether coming into the mission or leaving.  Other than zone conferences or other such reasons, I have been on Tanna.

I was trained by Elder Tauraa, the district leader of Tanna, in Lenakel.  I was with him for eight weeks, when an emergency transfer sent me to Whitegrass, Tanna, a new area I reopened, which had closed to missionaries after Cyclone Pam. The transfer was because a new missionary arrived halfway between transfers, and the mission president wanted me to train him.  His name is Elder Sevao, from Samoa.  Now I am with Elder Sevao in Whitegrass.  Tanna is a small island, with 8 elders.  Two in Lenakel, two in Whitegrass, two in Greenhill, and two in Saet Siwi. Saet Siwi is closest to the Yasur Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.  Proselyting is difficult there, because volcanic ash occasionally falls from the sky and stains our white shirts, which I learned about the hard way when I went on an exchange there while I was companions with Elder Tauraa.  When I was also with Elder Tauraa, one of the missionaries in Santo passed away in a car accident.  He lived in Saet Siwi, so I participated in a cultural funeral, and dealt with a little extra cultural shock than I had already been experiencing in a third world Oceania country.

I've lived in a hut, gone to church in a chapel made of wood and tarps, eaten dog, hiked through hills and valleys steep enough to be stairs, on dirt paths less than a foot wide, crossing creeks on log bridges under the water, teaching investigators that speak languages that don't really have names through translators. I've tasted seaweed and fruits with names I can't pronounce, survived a cyclone, stood on the rim of a volcano, and seen lava, been honored like a chief at a party, washed my clothes by hand, and I've seen a shirtless guy, shirt tied around his neck like a cape, riding a horse, holding a machete above his head. I have seen and done a lot these last three months, but none of that compares to what I've witnessed with the people here, what they go through every day of their lives, and how the Gospel has effected them, changing their lives.  These people have no jobs, and the few that do earn the equivalent of roughly one U.S. dollar an hour.  They build their tiny, one room huts out of leaves, wood and scrap metal.  They labor all day in their gardens, trying to harvest enough food for their family that day.  They have less than nothing.  But, every single person I have met, man, woman, or child, is the nicest, happiest, most generous person I have ever met.  And that's before they learn of the Gospel.  Seeing the joy of the Gospel added to the attitude they already have, there is no way for me to possible describe the feelings that swell within me, so I won't even try.  It's wonderful.

I have been in Whitegrass for about four weeks now, and we have five baptisms planned, with many more that may be added to that number.  Two of those five could have been baptized the day I met them, but Elder Sevao and I wanted to be certain before baptizing them.  It's incredible. The spirit testifies of the truth we teach to our investigators before we finish teaching.  No questions, no doubts.

Customs of Vanuatu require time to fix, and must be fixed before a person can be baptized, such as setting up a marriage that the church is allowed to recognize (custom marriages technically aren't legal, civil marriages, for example), but there's few problems on the side of the investigators. Sometimes I feel like I'm not here to teach, but to clear up legal obstacles for baptism.

This mission is different from anything else.  I have had some struggles, but they are nothing when put into perspective and context with all else.  The people here. The Gospel.  I have learned.  I have changed.  My testimony is completely different then when I left, and I can courageously proclaim the truth of the Gospel.  I have seen it in these people. Heavenly Father is real.  He directs everything.  He is the literal and spiritual Father of every one of us.  Jesus Christ is His Firstborn son, who performed the most difficult, saving act of heroism, the Atonement, and all we need to use it and have our sins remitted is to believe, admit we are wrong, and change.  The Holy Ghost testifies of truth.  His very presence gives us revelation.  The priesthood is real, and on the earth today.  Prophets and scripture tell us how to keep the commandments of God, which teach us how to become perfect.  Prayers are answered, and God Himself helps us, so long as we are righteous, and strive to keep His commandments.  I have faith that all of this is true.  In the name of the Savior Jesus Christ, amen.

Elda Isaac Van Wagenen

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