Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Week 11 - Antsirabe - I Got Better

So, this week is TRANSFER WEEK!!! It's kind of a big deal for those missionaries which are actually not training right now like me. For those missionaries who are training, nothing big happens. Except... they opened up a new area in Antsirabe so we are moving to the big, nice, fancy house and they will live there instead of us. "They" are a pair of Elders, a trainer and a trainee, so it is possible that Elder Glazier could be coming down to Antsirabe, which is SWEET! But not super likely, unfortunately. Most of the trainers are the most rocking missionaries I know, so he'll be in good hands for sure.

I should, however, start at the beginning of the week (last Monday), and not the end of it (transfer news came in yesterday and it will be all finished by Thursday night). I got sick! There it happened. Right after I was pumped about all the weight I was gaining. On Monday, after the cyber in the morning, we went shopping and ate out with all the elders in Antsirabe, then we beat the tar out of some Malagasies at soccer. It was fantastic. That night, I was feeling kind of cold and I took my tempurature and I was at 100, and I felt super tired so we stayed home. Good move, because my fever shot up to 103 and I was vomiting/dry heaving a ton. I took some medicine for my stomache and then threw that up. Then I slept for the next day with breaks where I made a mad rush for the bathroom. The good news is that I could go out working on Wednesday, and I'm running almost normal again, the bad news is that I may have lost a few pounds. I'm still the heaviest missionary in Antsirabe right now, but the margin is narrower now. Plus once transfers are done I'll be stuck with second heaviest... dang it!

Other than the crappy (pardon the pun) start to the week, it's been pretty good. We have had a lot of lessons fall through or our member help hasn't shown up, which is no bueno because we need another male with us to teach in most of the homes with just females and children. We have been focusing on father lead families, but usually we can only teach those at night when work is done, so the afternoon has lots of single mothers, and if we don't have our member help, we can't teach them. The lessons that we have had have gone fabulously though. We gave four investigators bap dates in November, so if everything works out, we should have around 15 baptisms then. That's including some people who we were going to give bap dates to this week, but we never got to them, and our couple previous investigators.

We had a pretty good attendance at church yesterday, but only two investigators showed up. That's really, really not good. They are the two daughters of the former branch president, Lalao and Vanessa, and they are super mazoto. Vanessa is nine and she is adorable. She's super shy, but she's starting to not be shy with me, which is great. Our first branch council with the new branch president was excellent! Almost everyone who was supposed to be there was there and there was even an agenda! It was so great! I have high hopes for things here in the Ambohimena  Branch.

This week my word of the week is a little bit different because it's 2 words!!! Avy hatrany, AH-vee hah-CHAW-nee. It means from now on or continuously. This comes at you from Alma 32 when Alma turns from the big crowd of Zoramites he was preaching to and focuses on the big group of poor people because he can see that they are ready to recieve the gospel. And then from then on he only talks to them. I like how once he sees that there is something better that he should be doing, he turns and does that from then on. Lots of times when we try to improve, the change might not be lasting, or we might notice a problem, but not deal with it for a while. The nice thing is that through repentence we can stop doing that bad thing right away and live better starting then and continuing for the rest of our lives.

Love you all a bunch! Enjoy general conference for me, because I won't get it here for a while.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 10 - Antisrabe - Practically a Malagasy

So it's starting to heat up here in Madagascar. It's sitting around 70, and all of the people are still wearing sweaters and thinking it's pretty chilly. It is not, however, and it is so nice all the time.There has been a huge party/music festival in Antsirabe for more than a week now. It's in the city center which is in between our area and our house, so we have to take detours each night. And when I say huge, I do mean pretty big, there was even a firework show last night as we walked past.

Cool accomplishments this week:
I am still gaining weight--20lbs since I entered the MTC.
I have been told I am tanner than when I first arrived.
I have been told that I am practically a Malagasy right after I was told that I am tanner than when I first arrived.
I ripped the legs off of live crawdads with the family who told me I am practically a Malagasy right after I was told I am tanner than when I first arrived.
I made some killer biscuits and gravy.
Oh, and I may have taught a few people about the gospel too.

Anyway, first things first, this week our Branch Presidency was reorganized. Ok, that's like one of the last things that happened, but it's going first anyway. Starting with the second counselor, we have Adr., who we reactivated our first week here. He's super studly and he knows his stuff really well, and he goes teaching with us around twice a week usually. Then we have some guy with a French name that I don't remember, it could be like Fabien Pierre or something like that, anyway he was the old first counselor, so nothing new there. Then our branch president... drumroll please... Ruf.! You don't know him. So you'll just have to take my word when I say he's a stud. Actually, I think I already wrote some about him a few weeks ago. He's the one with the super maditra kid who kept stealling my pen during the prayer. He's a mechanical engineer and a professor at a local college and he was also reactivated pretty early in our stay here. So essentially we have two newly reactivated members in our branch presidency and they are both massive studs and I am so glad that they are ready. They are both really smart and they know the gospel better than most around here, so they'll be able to help out a lot.

We finally got M. and N. to church this week. M. is the guy who is still having some trouble with the word of wisdom (ny tenin'ny fahendrena) but he's been sober since his episode last week, which is good. M.s mom, who is already a member and lives with them, is actually the one who told me that I have gotten tanner (twice) and that now I am practically a malagasy. Which is true, because my hair and skin are way darker and I have shrunk a foot so now I fit in with them all! That was a joke. I do have a pretty sweet tan line on my neck from my collar, and my arms have a sweet tan line too, but I have, unfortunately, not changed ethnicities yet, but I hear that usually happens after a few months so I'm still waiting.

This Thursday, when we went to go teach M. and N., we walked in on a big (2 gallons ish) bowl full of live crawdads. They were all crawling over each other and a bunch were locked in death grips on each other. Then we sat down and plucked the legs off with the family and threw the live crawdads into another bowl where they all just thrashed and writhed, then after that we stuck them in a pot to boil. It was great! Not even phased.

We went to the big tsena (market) last Monday to look for some stuff and I got some flip flops. They were the biggest ones I could find and they were still too small. All the other elders thought it was funny, but I have the same size as one of them, and the other ones are within 2 sizes of me, so it still sucks for them too, they just don't know it yet! I have also determined that either this week or next week I'm going to get a sweet snapback from the tsena, because there are sooooo many, and we missionaries are pretty thug, so we just have to get them. On the subject of my shopping list, I learned of a guitar maker in Tana who can make you a guitar from baobab wood legally. I think I might hit him up at the end of my mission...

Anyway, I'm super excited for this next week because on Sunday we get transfer news!!!! Not that I'm going anywhere. Or pretty much anyone else in Antsirabe... All of the Elders except the zone leaders are training or being trained, so one zone leader will probably change, but that's it. The real exciting part is this transfer will be the introduction of the next group, including Elder Glazier, to Madagascar. And that's exciting. Hopefully they will open up some new area down here in Antsirabe and he'll be coming here, but we'll see. He's probably going to stay in Tana though, poor guy...

They get a lot of rip off clothes from China. So there are a lot of American styles but all the clothes are dirty and worn usually. Everything is super colorful though, that's definitely a big thing. There are a lot of traditional clothes though too. Especially hats. There are 18 different tribes and they all have their own colorful hats. Then there are some other cool clothes too, there's this super long shirt thing, kind of like a night shirt thing, but it's just like a fitted shirt that goes down to your knees, and I am going to get one. Even if I have to have a tailor make one just for me because they are all too short. Let's see... there are lots of flip flops, t shirts, shorts, jeans, and lots of sweaters when it's cold (like in the 60s). Then there are a TON of snapback hats, and I'm going to get some of those too. For proselyting, of course.

Anyway, that's all for this week. The word of this week is manolotra, muh-Noo-loo-chah, and it means to offer. I found it when I was reading Ny Fitsipiky ny Filazantsara, also known as Gospel Principles. We didn't have any copies in Malagasy so I got one from the other house because they had a ton, but I may or may not have asked them first... Anyway, this week we have been having a little bit of a tough time because people have that darn agency thing. We've been offering what we have, but lots of them have just gotten to sidetracked by things that really aren't as important. It's important to remeber that if you put ALL of your faith in God and put him very first, you'll still have rough times, but everything will work out eventually. You'll have peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. That's kind of a big deal, anyway, you all take care.

Amin'ny manaraka,
Elder Rasmussen

Monday, September 15, 2014

Week 9 - Antsirabe - Studying

This week has been great. And it ended on a really high note too. We stayed home on Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday because Elder Cartmill had some really bad diarrhea and vomiting going on. He's feeling a lot better now, but it was pretty rough for a while. While he was sleeping and/or in the bathroom, I got to study a lot. I worked on reading Preach My Gospel in Malagasy and my scriptures in Malagasy too. It was easier than I was expecting, I got through the first chapter of Preach My Gospel without really having a problem, so that was cool. And then I deep cleaned our house too. I'm pretty much the mom in that house. I even made banana bread in the evening so that it came out about when the other elders came home. It's that bad. I also reorganized the kitchen and deep cleaned it, but mostly I just studied. It was pretty weird to not be walking around all day, and it was definitely nice, but I'm glad that we got back out and starting working last night.

Before that, though, we had a pretty successful week. We have been getting to a lot of recent converts and less actives, and we got a few new investigators too. Last Monday, we went to the soirèe at the branch president's house and taught his two daughters. They are very prepared and accepting. It's amazing what a strong gospel environment in the home does. Then on Tuesday we went and talked to a less active family. The wife had been avoiding us, but we finally sat down and had a great conversation with her and she really opened up and is starting to trust us, I think. Then we taught a few more people, and went to one of the families we are teaching with baptismal dates and the dad wasn't back from work yet, so we sat around and talked with the family as we waited for him. Then Marcel, who is a recent convert and probably one of the biggest studs in the whole branch, brought in the dad. And I do mean brought, he was totally carrying him. In Malagasy terms he was "vita be" or you could say he was smashed. He was so drunk that we just put him to bed essentially and then taught the rest of the family how they could work with him to help him overcome his drinking problem. It was a reall bummer to have him slip up like that again because now we are going to need to move back their baptismal date again. I think he'll make it though, the Atonement is stronger than something like that, so I have high hopes for him.

Another story from this week was when we were teaching Marcel (that stud that I already mentioned) and his wife in his house, which only has a bed, bookshelf, and a bench sandwhiched between the bed and the wall that we sat on. We had planned to start teaching his dad earlier, but he was never available, we asked Marcel if he could set up a time with him so we could teach him. We were expecting him to get back to us the next day, but he just leaned back and yelled through the wall, "Dad! When can you meet with the missionaries?" Then his dad yelled back from his little shack that was packed in pretty close to them. It was so great!

Then on Saturday a Seventy came and talked to the district and had a Q&A session with them. It was announced in Sacrament meeting last Sunday, but only about 60 people came. It was pretty disappointing. The meeting was really cool though. And then on Church, we had about 120 people there, which is our highest attendance so far! We had a lot of less actives come that we've been working on, and it was great! We still have a long ways to go, but it's nice to see some improvement.
This week's word is befahatany. It's pronounced bay-faha-TAH-nee and the "faha" is more like one syllable than a fa-ha like we would do in English. It kind of means "in vain" and you use it after a verb to show that it doesn't really have purpose. For example you can mamaky befahatany which means you read without really getting anything out of it. It's important that everything we do has a purpose and helps us become better in some way, otherwise  it isn't really doing us any good.

Tiako ianareo!
Elder Rasmussen

(From another letter home today) So I have fleas. It's actually pretty common here because the general sanitation is bad and there are stray dogs everywhere and people all live super close together. I think I probably got them from just sitting on a member or investigator's bed (often some of the only furniture in the house). But they really aren't that bad, I think mosquito bites are worse than flea bites, the only problem is that usually there are more flea bites. We are going to get some permetherin soon to put on all our clothes and bedding and then apparently eating garlicky food helps too. As far as I know all of the missionaries in Antsirabe have them, so it's not super bad, but hopefully will get rid of them soon.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Week 8 - Antsirabe - Food and Music

So on P-days we have dinner at around 5 and then go and proselyte from 6 until around 9, and we had been having a little bit of a tough time to find people then because people rarely want to meet on Monday nights, but last week we got it all solved. We went and did a little family home evening with the branch president, and it turns out one of his children was away at school somewhere else when the family got baptized, and she wants to learn. The branch president invited us to his house for a soirèe (like a small party) each Monday and he will invite some members or investigators each week and then we can teach his daughter too. We are pretty pumped, our program is just about full now, and it's been really cool to see how it filled up. We started with nothing like 3 weeks ago, but now we are starting to have trouble fitting people in. It's way nice to have that problem. Eventually we are going to have to start going on member splits all the time, which means no English at all, and that is something I am not really looking forward too... but it needs to happen eventually and it will be good for me, so I can't complain too much.

Our food this week has been fantastic. We went to Chez Billy's once with all of the elders from Antsirabe, which right now is the zone leaders, me, Elder Covey, and Elder Schroedter (who were both in my group in the MTC), and our trainers. Then we also all go to Besofina, a nice Malagasy hotely (little resturaunt), and then our house went to Pizza Inn this week, which is Malagasy pizza, and it's super greasy and has no sauce and it destroyed our digestive systems, but it was worth it. Then we've made crepes, pancakes, omelettes, spaghetti, other noodles, tortillas, burritoes, banana bread, coconut rice, and of course ramen. We have only had Malagsy food once at our house, and even then, it was Americanized some.

One of the Pizza Inn pizza boxes. We each got our own.

This week there has been a music festival in Antsirabe. It's all Malagasy music, which is pretty fantastic, and it's only at night. The best part is that you can hear it just about anywhere in the city, even half an hour plus away. So we can hear it all night long. It's usually like a mix of the mexican radio station and electronic dance music. With an occaisional banjo.

Part of the city, in the left corner you can see the spire of the cathedral on the main road.

Our investigators are improving, we have three with baptismal dates and a bunch of others that are progressing. We had a few come to church on Sunday, along with a bunch of less actives, which is great. One of the big problems we are having is retention. Most of the members are still really young in the gospel and they don't have strong foundations most of the time. So when a leader does something wrong, or someone doesn't come to the funeral of another ward member, or when there aren't any elders for a few months lots of people just stop coming. Then there's also a problem with gossip and we are running at about a 25% attendance right now, which is bad. Of course, the records need a lot of work too, and we have the records of a lot of people that have moved or died still, so it's not as bad as it seems, but we are really working on getting people to remember their covenents, teaching them about forgiveness, and helping them remember that it's Christ's church. The work is going really well though. The people are loving and good intentioned so it's usually not too hard to talk with them. All in all the people are really loving. They are just great! I haven't had a single door slammed in my face and the most hostile anyone has been is staring at the white guys as they pass by.
The word of the week is manankina, mah-NAHN-keen-ah, which means to rely on. It's important for all of us to get to the point where we don't need to rely on others for our relationship with God. We should only be relying on him and the supports that he has given us like priesthood leaders, scriptures, and modern day revelation. When people have a very strong relationship with God, they work their hardest to do the things that he wants them to do, and they are solid, solid members.
Misoatra betsaka ho ny fotoana!

Elder Rasmussen

Monday, September 1, 2014

Week 7 - Antsirabe - Trying to Read the Book of Mormon

So last week after we went to the cyber to email, we went shopping at the Shoprite, the only grocery store in Antsirabe other than street vendors. While we were there, we found a whole section of mugs for sale, and Elder Covey and I found some of the coolest mugs in existance, and we bought them for about three dollars. They are white with pictures of kittens on them. It doesn't get more hardcore than that. Mine is actually better than his because I get 5 different kittens in one big picture that wraps all the way around, but he only gets the same cat twice, once on each side.

This week has been super awesome! Our member help is amazing. We have had at least one person with us every day this last week from about 2ish until around 7. They have been a huge help because they know lots of the people who were investigating with the last missionaries, the less actives, and the leaders in the ward. There was one day where we had no help and we didn't know where to start, so we just went into our area (about a 30-45 minute walk from our house) and stopped at a market to look around and decide where to go. Then a member walked up to us, announced that she was going to help us for that day, and then started taking us around to people. She even had a list of recent converts and less actives for us! The Lord is definitely leading us to those he has prepared.

A nice traditional Malagasy meal

In one of our lessons with some less active members, there was a little boy who decided I was his friend, and I was chatting and playing with him a little bit before we got going. I made the mistake of writing something down in my planner and he was fascinated with my pen. It's just a black ballpoint pen that you push the button down, then have to push a button on the side to pop it back up, but he thought it was the coolest thing in the world! Then, during the prayer, he reaches through my folded arms, all the way across my chest and slowly pulls the pen out, then after playing with it for about 30 seconds (it was a long prayer), he slowly reaches back and slides it back into my chest pocket. I was trying sooo hard not to laugh the whole time! His family is really awesome though. They are pretty rich for Malagasies, the dad is a mechanical engineer and professor at a local college. Pretty rich is relative, of course, because they still have a cement floor and I'm not sure if they have running water or not. It's crazy how much we take for granted.

A sunset in our area

Today we drove way out into the boonies in Manadona, to go to a waterfall. It was super cool. We went with all of the missionaries in my district and in the other Antsirabe district. Some of the elders went and ran way up past the waterfall jumping from rock to rock in the river. It was lots of fun, and it was really pretty.

My selfie from our hike to the waterfall today

I've started to read the scriptures in Malagasy to work on my language skills, and I started by jumping around to a lot of scriptures that I have memorized in English, but then I decided to start at the beginning. I open to the first verse and it says "I Nephi, because I was born of parents pinched people with hair..." or something like that. I asked Elder Rahilahivao, the native Malagasy who lives with me, about it and he started laughing and said that it was pretty messed up--apparently the translation isn't quite perfect... Apparently people still manage to keep reading after coming across that, so it's all good I guess. The mistakes of men can't keep the work of the Lord from progressing.

The word of the week is mazoto (muh-zoo-too) it means dilligent. We use this word a lot when describing investigators and members. It's super important because those who are not mazoto, those who don't read their scriptures and keep their covenants and obey the commandments, don't have the Spirit in their life and they lose their faith. It's super sad to see. It's a hard concept for lots of people to understand that you won't be able to know if the gospel is true or not until AFTER you start living it. You have to give it a test drive first because no assurance that it's true will come until after the trial of your faith.

Fitiavana maro!

Elder Rasmussen