Monday, March 9, 2015

This is Only the Beginning

My dearest friends and family,

Well, here it is! My last day as a missionary in the Philippines. My mind and heart are bursting with bittersweet emotion at the thought that I will soon be hugging my family at the airport and also at the thought that I will be leaving a whole lot of myself and my heart here in the Philippines.

I want to share with you a few lessons that I learned here that I'll be taking home with me.

First, I've learned how to LOVE. Love everyone, especially my Heavenly Father. Not just say the words, "I love you" but to really show it in my actions. In the last 18 months I've worked with countless sister missionaries from all over the world coming from all different backgrounds. I've met and talked to and taught a lot of people and I've learned to see each one of them, not for who they are right now, but for who they have the potential to become as a son or daughter of God. I've learned to love them, not because the love me or my message, but because they are my brother or sister and I've been blessed to feel and share God's love for them. What an amazing privilege!

Second, I've learned how to be HAPPY. I've learned that true happiness doesn't come from a great job, a big house, the next iPhone or TV, or a perfect life. I've been blessed to serve among the happiest people on earth- the beautiful Filipinos :) The happiest people I've met here in the Philippines have next to nothing, but are faithfully living the Gospel. We had a visit with an active member, an RM, Bro Flory and his family the other day. Bro Flory is one of the most faithful members here in Villasis. He walks with his family to church every single week without fail. He shared with us the other day about how he had no way to walk the two miles to his construction job because he had no food to bring with him and didn't know if he would have enough energy to do the work on no food. He told us that with no work, he had nothing to feed his family three small children, including two with special needs, except for a little rice. Sister Molina and I were both in tears upon hearing this and were praying to know what we could say to this man in his destitute condition and strengthen him. As we were talking to him, he was the one who ended up strengthening us with one of the most powerful one-sentence sermons I've ever heard. With a smile on his face He said, "At least, the Church is true"... The Church IS true and for those faithful members who are living the commandments of God, no matter how difficult the circumstances, happiness and peace will come! True happiness is living like Bro Flory, living the commandments and trusting Him. I've felt that happiness every day in the last 18 months no matter how tired I am or how difficult the day was. Missionaries are happy because they live the commandments and are serving Heavenly Father. Happiness is choosing to put Heavenly Father first!

Third, I've come to know who my Savior Jesus Christ is. I've been privileged to experience even the most minuscule part of what He experienced as I've walked a path of rejection, miracles, joy, struggles and true discipleship. The price a missionary pays is not cheap. Every tear, every mile walked in the pouring rain or scorching head, every rejection, every hard day and tired bone was all worth it for me, because it made me realize what my Savior went through for me. There were so many days that all I could do was turn to Him and the power of His Atonement, but in the end I am so GRATEFUL because those hard days helped me learn who my Savior really is and helped me to become even just the tiniest bit more like Him. All of it was worth it for that blessing!

I want to give some advice to those who are still serving or preparing to serve as missionaries. It's the same advice I was given a long time ago: LOVE quickly, choose to be HAPPY, and don't waste a single moment! You will be happy if you do these things and will have a successful mission, no matter the outward results.

I am so excited to begin my eternal mission as a make my way home on Wednesday. My mission doesn't end when I take my nametag off because I know that this is only the beginning of an eternal commitment to serve my Heavenly Father. I will continue to do so, to go wherever He goes and do whatever He asks for the rest of my life just as I have learned to do here in the mission field. This is only the beginning!

I love you and am eternal grateful for your support!

Sister Mckenna Gustafson :)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Coming Home!

Sister Gustafson has had an amazing experience among the people of the Philippines. In just a few short days she will be returning home. If you have been a regular or casual reader of this blog, please take a moment to post a short comment below. I'm sure she would love to know how you have enjoyed reading about her growth and adventures in the Philippines. Thank you!

We're giddy with excitement to welcome her home!

Brother Rick

Hello everyone,

I want to tell you a story about a brother that was baptized on Saturday. His name is Brother Rick and his journey into the church started last August when Sister Flores and I stopped on the side of the road and talked to him as he was delivering soft drinks. We had a strong feeling that we needed to go back to him, but never had the chance because of some things that came up in his life. He lost contact with the missionaries after I was transferred, but Sis Gregory and I were able to go back to him when I was reassigned here in Villasis. He has become a big part of my last 3 months here in Villasis and we've seen so much progress as we've helped him to learn and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told us the other day that if we didn't do anything else on our missions, that we should know that at least we helped one person. He said, "At least you saved one, you saved one."

The baptism was so spiritual and it was wonderful to see Bro Rick surrounded by all the other brothers in the ward that had friendshipped and supported him as he prepared for baptism. The best part however, was when he got up yesterday during testimony meeting and shared his testimony. He said, “I used to have a big business and a lot of money and a lot of cars and a pretty wife, but I always felt something was missing in my life. It came to a time that my business went under and my wife left me and took the kids with her and I lost all my money. I moved back in with my parents to take care of them. My mother died and I was still struggling to find what was missing. Until I heard the gospel I didn't know what I needed. The missionaries taught me how to pray, how to go to church every Sunday, pray, and stay away from alcohol. Now I'm happier than I've ever been before. I have no money, no more big business, and no family, but I have faith, the gospel, prayer, and a family here in the church. I know the Church is true and the Book of Mormon is true."

Brother Rick has seen the change in his life because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We've seen the change in him too. He is happier and smiles more and says he feels more peace! I testify that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, prayer, reading the Book of Mormon, and going to church are the only things that can bring true happiness! I invite you to add these things to your life and notice the changes you find! I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church on the earth and living the teachings of Jesus Christ will bring happiness, peace, and direction to your life! :)

Sister Mckenna Gustafson :)

Sister Marissa's Baptism

February 22, 2015

What a miracle filled week!

Sister Marissa with her family on her baptism day
Sister Marissa was baptized on Saturday. She is such a miracle. We know that it was not us that taught her, but the Spirit of God. Sister Marissa could not hear or read anything that we taught her and at times we were at a loss of how to communicate the doctrines of the lesson to her, but we relied on the truth that the Spirit is the one language that can communicate the truth to anyone's heart who is willing to accept it. And sis Marissa is one of the most humble, willing to learn investigators that I've met on my mission. She was simply glowing after her nephew baptized her on Saturday. We went in the back afterward to congratulate her and she signed to us that she didn't want to stand in the front because she motioned that she would start crying she was so overcome with emotion. :) The biggest change in her countenance however came after she was confirmed a member and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Sister Molina and I both noticed, Sister Marissa really is different. She smiles more and just seems to have this glow about her countenance. It's the light of Christ that has just grown with in her. We couldn't be more happy for her and the increased joy and peace that this step has added to her life!

We also had a great miracle and surprise last night when we showed up at Bro Carlito and Sis Priscilla's house last night. They have been members of the church for only about 3 months and are experiencing some trials right now which have prevented them coming to church lately.. We expressed this concern to the ward leaders during MLC and requested a visit from the ward leaders to help them resolve their struggles and show the support and love of the ward. We were shocked in the best possible missionary way when we showed up at their house last night to find not one, not two, but SIX ward leaders at their house talking with them and sharing a message with them, including Bishop and his wife, the RS Pres, and the EQ president. Three separate couples from the ward had decided to take time from their busy day to visit a struggling RC family. It wasn't even planned that they would all go and visit them!! And Bro Carlito and Sis Priscilla felt the love and support of the ward. Bishop gave Bro Carlito a priesthood blessing and blessed him with strength to keep the commandments and overcome their trials. We are so grateful for these truly consecrated members who did something so simple to show their love for this family! That is true Christlike love and ministering service!

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately is the blessing of challenges. A sister asked me this last week what the greatest blessing I received on my mission was and after thinking about it, I told her that the challenges I've experienced are definitely the greatest blessing I've received. There's nothing like being challenged and pushed to your limits mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually every day for 18 months to drive you closer to Heavenly Father and to grow to become more like His Son. I'm so grateful that He loves me enough to push me and allow me to grow! I'm learning to love the challenges every single day :)

Sister Gustafson :)

Two RM sisters who served in our mission showed up at church yesterday!
The lovely sisters of the Mangaldan Zone :)

Us with the Mapandan Sisters after exchanges last Wednesday
A house on a truck! :) Moving... more fun in the Philippines! :)

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Joy is in the Journey :)

Me at the beautiful Manilla Temple

The words to one of my favorite YW songs have been going through my head nearly every day this week... "The joy is in the journey, the joy is learning to become like Him..." I think He has been sticking that song in my head because He knows that I have been praying for that very thing this week- JOY in the journey and happiness in my last weeks as a missionary :)

I definitely felt that yesterday when Sis Marissa, our deaf investigator passed her baptismal interview. I am so grateful to Elder Balane our DL who is in tune enough with the Spirit to be able to communicate with her and discern that she is ready to be baptized. She will be baptized this coming Saturday! :) 

Joy is also the only word to describe what I felt when I saw Bro Sonny, a man that Sis Fui and I baptized last August (his family has since joined him as members), stand to be recognized in Stake Conference to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. He was just beaming in his white shirt and tie. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing him becoming a leader and lifetime Priesthood holder in the church! :)

Bus ride to Manilla
It was great going with my batchmates to Manila this week. After a long fingerprinting, paper filling out, signature signing couple of hours at the immigration office, we got to stop by the temple for about 5 minutes to take pictures and got to get Subway (YES, real true American- style SUBWAY!) and Krispy Kreme (YES, that Krispy Kreme). It was basically a long day of sitting in traffic on the bus and van, but it was a great bonding day with the Elders and Sisters that will head home with me in a few weeks. It also made me so so so grateful to be assigned in the province area of the Philippines and not in the city itself where things are a lot more busy and dirty. I was happy to cross back into the Pangasinan border about 8pm and hop off the bus and hug my dear companion. It felt a little bit like coming home :)

Exchanges with Sisters
Something I learned this week was about the true meaning of faith. I'll be honest- it can be a little stressful to lead my area twice a week on exchanges with sisters from other zones who come to Villasis to learn how a "model area" should look. I had an exchange on Friday and all of our plans seemed a little "iffy" I wasn't sure what to expect for the day or how things were going to work out. I prayed, set the plans, texted the investigators and members we were planning to see, and headed out the door with my companion for the day, Sis Ramsey. But I still found myself doubting a little bit, worrying that maybe it would be one of those challenging days and we would struggle to teach. I should really know better by now though, that exchanges mean MIRACLES. We were blessed with 3 new investigators and a completely full schedule with 8 lessons and all our goals achieved. It was like Heavenly Father was teaching me to stop worrying and just relax and do my best and set my plans and just leave the rest up to Him. He taught me that true faith is not fearing or worrying when I have done my best and am being exactly obedient, but that true faith is expecting miracles in every day. So this week, do all you can, then expect the miracles. They will come according to your faith!

I love you all,
Sister Gustafson 

Breakfast with Sisters during a recent exchange.

Valentine's Day breakfast I made for the Sisters on exchanges.

Love these beautiful Filipino children!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Faith is Action!

With my new companion, Sister Molina.
Hello Everyone,
As a missionary, my purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ through faith in Him and His Atonement. This week we've seen a lot of evidences of people not only believing in Him, but showing it by their actions!

Sister Marissa, a returning LA and her two beautiful kids, Michelle and Michael showed their faith this week when the learned that the word of wisdom includes coffee, which they are currently using as ulam (topping for rice) to go with their rice. They committed that even though that's the only food they have sometimes to go with their rice. They will no longer drink coffee and will eat their rice plain instead. We asked 12 year old Michael what he will do if someone offers him coffee and there's no other alternative and he told us that he will go in the corner and pray for Heavenly Father's help. If only we all could have the faith of a child!

We also saw the faith of the Rabara family, a recent convert family, when they told us that all their neighbors laugh at them and told them they're crazy when they come home from church in their tricycle as a family. Their neighbors can't understand why they don't use that day to work selling their puto pao and butsi (rice cakes) or why they spend a whole 3 hours at church instead of the one they used to attend at their former church. But we were so happy when we heard them say that they don't pay attention to them and are happier than ever that they are united in their faith as a family. I love that family so much!! 

We watched Sis Donna, a recent convert baptized last year, get up and give her first ever talk in church. She was emotional as she told her conversion story and how hard it is to be the only member in their family, but how happy she is as a member. She has true faith!

We also saw Bro Rick continue to take steps of faith as he prepares for baptism this month (see attached picture- he's usually really happy, I think he was squinting in the sun) :) He read 4 chapters straight in the Book of Mormon as he was washing his clothes this week and told us all the details of Nephi's journey to get the brass plates. We are excited to see him so happy to follow all the commandments, just like Nephi!

It's such a blessing to see so many people exercising faith by acting! I love being a missionary!
Sister Gustafson :)
It was Sis Molina's birthday this week! She's not in the picture though... we were on exchanges so we had some extra guests for our early morning surprise for her! :)

Us with Sis Camille, who is preparing for a mission. She's our neighbor!! :)


Monday, February 2, 2015

Truly Happy :)

Mga Minamahal ko sa buhay, (Beloved in my life)

As I begin the last transfer of my mission, I am reminded more and more that my mission is just the beginning of a lifetime of service to my brothers and sisters and my Heavenly Father. Yesterday we had a testimony meeting during Relief Society and 3 of the most beautiful Filipino Nanays stood up and bore their testimonies. These tiny, white haired, tan skinned nanays are some of the strongest members of the church, having served faithfully in various callings and continuing to do their visiting teaching and attend their church meetings. I couldn't stop myself from standing up after them and telling everyone that I want to be like Nanay Aurelia and Nanay Cabatbat and Nanay Alcantara and that when I am that age, in my 80s and even 90s, I want to be able to stand and say that I have faithfully served my whole life and that I still know that the church is true. I am grateful that this is just the beginning of a beautiful life filled with service and I'm grateful for the example of my parents and grandparents who have served and continued to serve their whole lives!

It's easy to say goodbye to a companion at the end of a transfer, but it's a lot harder to say goodbye to a best friend. As I hugged Sis Gregory goodbye on Friday morning, I couldn't help but shed some tears because I'm really going to miss her hugs and her love and her friendship. She's become more than a companion to me and I know we will be lifelong friends! 

I have a new companion now, Sister Molina :) She has the biggest smile and the biggest heart. When she teaches the Spirit fills the room. She is 22, an elementary school teacher, from Bicol, and loves butterflies. I am so blessed to have such a hard-working and exactly obedient companion in my last transfer! I'll send pictures next week... I think she's my tiniest companion of the 12 so far :)

Sis Marissa is so much fun to teach. This week we taught her the ASL alphabet and now she can spell words like "itlog" and "baso", "egg" and "cup", so she can ask for those things when she wants them. It's incredible progress for her to have a way to communicate after a lifetime of being mute and deaf. We are planning on getting the Relief Society involved as well in learning the ASL alphabet as well so they can communicate with her :)

Brother Rick was an answered prayer when he showed up to church yesterday in his bright red striped polo shirt and jeans. He texted us on Saturday night and told us that he had a fever and probably wouldn't be able to make it to church in the morning. We said a prayer for a miracle and were overjoyed to see him walk into sacrament meeting the next morning. There is nothing more happy as a missionary than seeing your investigators come to church! It makes it all worth it, if even one will come! We had a great lesson this week about the celestial kingdom and Brother Rick looked us straight in the eyes and told us that he is willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the celestial kingdom. We are continuing to prepare him for baptism this month!

We are also working with Michelle and Michael, two of the most beautiful dark-eyed children I've seen in my life. They are 10 and 12 and their mom is a returning less-active. Even though she has epilepsy, they also all came to church yesterday! That's true happiness- service and seeing the results as they come to church and change their lives! :)

I love you all and I love this work more and more with each day!
Sister Gustafson