Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Filipino Christmas

Hello all!

We had a lovely little Filipino Christmas here! I learned this week that no ward Christmas party should ever be complete without Psi blasting at full volume and a pool-sized bowl of pancit (noodles). It was great. We had early curfew, so us four sisters had dinner and then we moved our mattresses into the main room/kitchen and had a reverent/missionary style "slumber party" with an exact bedtime of 10:30 of course :) We exchanged gifts and Sister Fronk and I discovered we have the exact same taste in stationary-we got each other the EXACT SAME set of stationary haha. Glad to know we have good taste :) The best Christmas present I recieved was the chance to skype my family for a solid hour. It was wonderful. I love them so much!!

A little friend at the Ward Christmas Party!

I was inspired by Sister Parker, so I decided to make a Filipino version of "You know you're a missionary when..." :)
You know you're a sister missionary in the Philippines when...
-you live in a house surrounded by a nine foot tall fence topped with barbed wire
-you know the most graceful way to enter and exit a tryke while wearing a skirt
-you've never knocked on a door in your mission, but you've stood outside and called "tao po" a million times
-you have a Mary Jane tan line on the tops of your feet
-finding ants crawling on your arms has long since ceased to bother you
-you keep your oreos and cereal in the "ref" (fridge)
-you get called "ate" (older sister) daily on the streets
-when you pass a house blasting the radio or videoke, you and your 
companion start singing hymns
That's my life!
A little background on the picture: We have seen this pedicab (bike with a sidecar) a million times. Every time we see it, it's either dark or rainy or I don't have my camera. But on Christmas eve there was a miracle! It was sunny and I had my camera and so I got a picture!! We're not sure who it belongs to, but we don't think they know what it means. It doesn't belong to a member. Someday we will find the owner and tell them what the saying on their pedicab means and they will join the church :) we just need to find them first!
I love you all so much! Keep your covenants. Go to church. Love others. Live the Gospel. The Way to be truly happy is there for us, all we need to do is live it!
Sister Gustafson

PS-we have a really cool investigator who's blind! Danilo is 28 and a part member family so there's a lot of hope for him to progress :)It's a little tricky to teach him, but he has a strong desire to learn! I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mom's Note

The Urdaneta Mission blog contains pictures of Sister Gustafson at their Lingayen Zone Christmas Party. There is also a video called "My Three Words" featuring all of the missionaries. It is quite long, but you can see Sister Gustafson at 17:00.


Maligayang Pasko! (Merry Christmas!)

Hello All!

Goodness- what a week. I was stretched and pushed this week to do things that I did not know I could do. It was definitely a week of learning and growth. Here's how it happened:

On Wednesday at our Christmas Conference in Dagupan, the sister training leaders casually mentioned that we would be having exchanges on Thursday and that I (!!) would be leading the area. Leading the area means leading all teaching appointments, finding activities, coordinating everything, everything for 24 hours. Whew. So that was super stressful, but I made it through. Sister Alvaro (STL) was incredible. I hope that someday I can be like her. Everything she says during lessons just flows with the Spirit and she is so inspired! Even though she didn't know our investigators, the questions she asked and the things she said were just what they needed!
Exchanges with the Sister Trainer Leaders. They're the best!

On Friday I woke up with a fever of 101 and a super sore throat, but I sucked it up and went out to work with a bottle of ibuprofen in my bag :)
On Saturday I woke up with a fever of 103.8, so I spent the morning in bed feeling pretty awful. After lunch, the zone leaders came over and gave me a priesthood blessing. I felt well enough (and took enough ibuprofen) to go out and work the full 8 hours later. There is power in priesthood blessings! By the time we got home though, I was feeling pretty awful again and ended up going to sleep early. Sunday- I felt a lot better which was good because sister Fronk and I had to teach Gospel principles again. in Tagalog. To a room full of investigators and less-actives. can you say stressful?? But once I again, we made it through. Then at church we were informed by Bishop that we needed to speak at the funeral of a member that night. So last night I spoke at a funeral. In Tagalog. to a room (or more like a yard) full of members and non-members. All of a sudden, with about 10 minutes to prepare. 

All I can say is that I have grown and been pushed to do things I didn't think I could do this week. I have grown and come to realize that when Heavenly Father asks us to do things, there is a reason for it and like President Monson says, "He will shape the back to bear the burden placed upon it." I am grateful to my Father in Heaven for giving me strength beyond my own this week to accomplish all that He has asked me to do.

Despite the stress, there were some moments of overwhelming happiness this week. :) On Tuesday we were out in the middle of nowhere trying to contact a referral. It was POURING. We had our umbrellas, but they were literally not doing a thing to keep us dry. We were in the middle of nowhere and getting soaked. There was nothing we could do but keep walking. It was one of those moments when it hit me. again. I am ACTUALLY a missionary in the Philippines and I am so happy and this is amazing. All I could do was laugh. I laughed and laughed and I couldn't stop, just ask my companion :) It was just one of those  wonderful moments!

On Friday we found a whole new middle class family who is very interested in hearing the gospel. We taught them a great lesson, got a return appointment and a referral from them. As we were leaving their house and walking down the road, the overwhelming high that comes from finding new people to teach hit me all at once and I was so happy, I literally jumped in the air and said, "I LOVE missionary work!!" So, in short, even though some weeks are hard, there are moments of overwhelming joy that are given to us by Heavenly Father because He loves us. 

My Christmas message for all of you this year is that He lives. Remember that Christmas is not about packages, snow, lights, trees, or gifts. It's about our Savior and His perfect life and sacrifice for us. Because of a tiny baby that was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, we can live with our Father in Heaven again some day. His life neither began in Bethlehem nor ended on Calvary. For that I am so grateful this Christmas season. Even though there are no trees or snow or Christmas lights on our house, I feel the Christmas Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, so strongly this year, because I know more strongly than I ever have before that HE LIVES.

I love you all! Have a great Christmas :)
-Sister Mckenna Gustafson 

Lingayen 2nd Ward Relief Society

(No information with this photo. It appears to be a pig's head with an apple in it's mouth.)

We rescued two baby goats from a slimy ditch the other day. They were so cute!!! Just tiny little babies bleating and bleating for their mama, who was frantically pacing back and forth along the side of the ditch. We put a branch in and used it to pull the goats to safety.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Week!

Me and Sunshine, a ward member who is preparing to serve a mission. She's so sweet!

Hello All!

We were so blessed to be able to watch the Christmas devotional last night. It was beautiful. I think my eyes were dry for maybe five minutes. I was overwhelmed by a Spirit of peace and gratitude for my Savior and for His life, example and ministry. If you didn't get a chance to watch it- watch at least Elder Nielson's talk. It was so beautiful.

We had a good week! We got a TON of referrals this week and spent a lot of time dodging dogs and trying to find where they live. The problem is not that there are no house numbers- there are. The problem is that they are not IN ORDER. They go from 308 and then next door is 330 and then next door is 423. haha... so it's always and adventure trying to find exactly where people live! The Filipinos love to refer their friends to us! It's so great, but it can get confusing sometimes when you have 11 referrals. I'm learning how to use my planner effectively talaga!

On Saturday we went to visit a LA family that lives on the beach!! So we got to walk along the beach! It was so beautiful! The gorgeous blue sky and water and sand was just perfect! We stayed far away from the water and kept our shoes on, of course, but I picked up a few beautiful seashells! The point of this story though, is that we met a WHITE(!) person! She was walking along the beach too and we started talking in ENGLISH. turns out she's from Ireland and her husband is Filipino, so they're living here for 6 months out of the year. She was super willing to take the pamphlets we gave her. It was so weird doing missionary work in English! I kept wanting to speak Tagalog haha. Not sure if anything will happen from it, but it was cool meeting another foreigner :)

 This is a picture of the sunset the other night, for all you who are freezing
 in the snow right now ;)

We also had a strange experience this week contacting a referral from some super wealthy members. We went to their house (more like mansion, by Philippines standards) and they drove us in their CAR to their referral's house. It was sooo weird riding in an air-conditioned car! And what's really weird is that it WAS weird. 3 months ago, riding in a car was something I did every day, but now it's weird. It's like a whole new world here.

We had a lesson with a girl we met along the side of the road this week. At the end of the lesson she said, "I know everything you have taught me is true!". Goodness! That was a first for us! Too bad she's only 17... we can't have anyone baptized who's under 20 and doesn't have a parent or guardian who's a member. We actually have a few golden investigators who are under 20, but can't progress without their parents becoming members as well. And their parents want nothing to do with us. It's so sad!

Sister Marlene is good! We have 3 investigators progressing towards baptism: Marlene, Alex, and Perlita. They're all parents and have a strong desire to be baptized. We are continuing to help them come to come to church! It's a huge commitment, but we have a lot of support from the ward to help them!

The primary program was yesterday at church! It was so cute! I love these gorgeous little Filipino kids! 

That's all for now!
Have a great day :)

Sister Mckenna Gustafson

 A sheep and a lamb walking along the road, typical here!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Best Week! :)

Hello all!

Well, my first transfer in the field has come and gone, with each week getting better than the last. I'm pretty sure almost every day this week I wrote, "Great day!" with a smiley face in my journal. :) Each week I get more comfortable with Tagalog, feel more love for our investigators, and fall more in love with the Philippines. Life is good!

We have a humungous teaching pool. I don't even know where to begin. We have three wonderful sisters who are full of faith and a desire to know more. We have single moms and very old people. We have quite a few families and single people. There are so many people we know and love and teach. :) Sister Marlene is a Mom of 6  with a baptismal date of Jan 11. We are working to try to help her with her understanding of the doctrine, which is simple, but sure, and her testimony of Joseph Smith. She struggles to come to church consistently, but she has so much faith and such a strong desire to learn the gospel. I love Sister Marlene and her cute family! One investigator has been on my mind a lot this week - Sister Feliciana - She's 68 and lives with her husband and their grandkids. All day long, from sunrise to sunset, they work washing glass bottles in their yard to earn money. The bottles come from the trash and  have the rotten remnants of bagoong (fish sauce) and banana catsup in them. All day everyday, Feliciana and her husband and her grandkids clean these smelly bottles so that they can sell them to the bottling factory. They make 5 pesos for 24 bottles, so for a whole day they only make about 60-100 pesos (1-2 dollars). It's so sad. Her grandkids are only 9 or 10 years old and so solemn. Feliciana has a strong testimony of God and has cried both times that she's prayed during the lessons. The Spirit was so strong! We are working with her and loving her and sometimes we help her stack the bottles so they can dry. The gospel can help her so much. I love being able to share something with people that can change their lives spiritually, even if I can't change their physical situations. We pray that she will be able to come to church. 

We had a great zone activity last Monday! We went caroling at the grocery store in town. It was so fun to see people's reactions to about 30 missionaries loudly singing Christmas carols in the middle of the day :) The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear, right? :) After that, we went to this big field in front of the capital and played ultimate for a little while. We have these awesome zone shirts that say I  <3 Lingayen Zone on them. I do love our zone!! So many great missionaries!!

Have a great week! I love you all!
Sister Gus :)

Monday, December 2, 2013

First Baptism

 Rachel's baptism with her friend.

Happy happy day! We had our first baptism on Saturday :) Rachel, who is 12 years old, was baptized! We worked so hard to plan the baptism so that it would be reverent and well-organized. And almost nothing went as we had planned. One speaker didn't show up, the portable piano didn't work, the kids were loud, etc. But it was honestly the most beautiful, spiritual baptism I've ever been to in my life. Maybe it's because it's my first as a missionary, but most likely it's because of the beautiful Spirit that was there. It didn't matter that the kids were running around. It didn't matter that there was mud on the font step. It didn't matter that there were less than 20 people there, including us. What matters is that Rachel was baptized by bishop, who holds the priesthood. What matters is that both her parents were there, beaming, even her less-active dad. And the Spirit was so strong. As we waited for them to change after the baptism, we sang Families Can be Together Forever. My eyes were wet and my throat was tight because I thought back to my very first night here in the Philippines. We had gone to Rachel's house to teach her, but she wasn't there, so we taught her mom, Julie. We talked about eternal families, and although I couldn't understand everything she said, I saw something in Sister Julie's eyes that I recognized- the love of a mother for her family. It's the same thing I've seen in my own mother's eyes countless countless times. She cried because having an eternal family seemed impossible to her, because of her husband and sons' alcohol habits. She started coming back to church with Rachel after that, and little by little, regained her testimony. As we sang at Rachel's baptism, I looked at Sister Julie with her newly baptized daughter and her husband by her side. I thought of my own family and how blessed I am to have parents that raised me in the gospel and who were sealed for time and all eternity in the temple. I couldn't sing because of the tightness in my throat, but my heart was full of the words, "Families can be together forever through Heavenly Father's plan. I always want to be with my own family and the Lord has shown me how I can. The Lord has shown me how I can." I am so grateful for the temple ordinances that allow families to be together for eternity. I am so grateful to be a missionary and have the opportunity to see families' lives change because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. :)

Rachel's family and friend with me and Sister Gallego.

Our other investigators are struggling, struggling mostly to come to church. They have strong testimonies, but a really hard time coming to church. They can't get baptized unless they come to church!! We've had to push all of our baptismal dates back again. We are praying for them and doing everything we can to help them! We have some very promising new investigators though! Our main problem is not finding people to teach- everyone is interested! Our problem is finding the elect- those who have been prepared and will keep their commitments. There is so much work to do! Some days we are almost literally running from appointment to appointment! The Lord truly is hastening His work! :)

Yesterday our Gospel Principles teacher was out of town, so Sister Fronk and I got to teach Gospel Principles class in Tagalog for a whole classroom of investigators! It was a pretty overwhelming task for me, but I prayed so hard and I could feel Heavenly Father helping me so much. Through pictures on the board and our limited Tagalog, I hope we the investigators felt the Spirit and have somewhat of an understanding of the 3 kingdoms of glory and the judgment day. :)

We had a couple of visitors to our house this week! A flying cockroach and a 3-inch spider. Both of which were in OUR BEDROOM. They were both promptly killed by brave Sister Flores. She's the best!

I love you all!

-Sister Gus :)

 All the sisters from Lingayen, Alaminos, Dagupan zones at our sisters meeting on Wednesday! I love these sisters!!
  The picture is of me with my first SALAD in 5 weeks! It was the most delicious salad I've ever eaten. I didn't realize how much I'd been craving lettuce!! It's at a mall in Dagupan where we had our sisters meeting.
 Yes, there is MacDo's here!