Monday, March 31, 2014

The Good News :)

Hello All,

Happy Summer :) It's been in the high 90's this whole week with high humidity, meaning that any hope for ever being dry is useless. I sweat pretty much 24/7 and made a new record for myself on Saturday by drinking 5 liters of water. You know it's hot when you can drink almost 2 liters of water out working without needing to use the bathroom for eight hours. Yup, sorry if that's too much information haha...

  Dinner at Le Geralde Family's house Excuse the sweaty-ness haha... it's soooo hot here!

We had a very successful half-day mission with the branch yesterday. Everyone stayed after church and brought their huge pots of rice and ulam for a make-shift potluck in a corner classroom of the church. We had a short workshop and then divided up the list of less actives and barangays and sent them out by companionship to teach Ether 12:4 and invite the lost sheep of the Manat Branch to return to the fold. They loaded (and by loaded I mean stuffed- I think I saw one tryke with at least 8 people in it haha) in trykes and jeepneys and went out like an army- men, women, and youth. They visited and taught and invited and then came back to the church for juice and fudgee bars. I loved talking to them afterwards and hearing the stories about finding less actives who were willing to come back to church. They were all so excited about the work they had done and were all joking and laughing in typical Filipino fashion :) I felt the love of this tiny group of faithful saints and loved seeing their enthusiasm for strengthening their branch!

We had exchanges with the Dagupan 5C sisters on Friday. I worked with Sister Kinkini, a Tongan sister with the biggest heart in anyone I've ever met. While on the exchange we taught an inactive woman named Tess. Tess is an RM who served in the Quezon City Mission in the late 80's and is now fully active in the Catholic religion. When I heard about her background before the lesson, I was quite intrigued. How can a thing like that happen? After the opening prayer, I asked her questions to try to find out what she remembers about her testimony. It turns out she knows every doctrine of the gospel inside and out, but has hardened her heart against the church and the truths she once treasured. She sat there on the couch, arms folded, and eyes down as we talked with her, shared 2 Nephi 20:29-31, and bore powerful testimonies. She would not answer our questions and did not want us to be there. Sister Kinikini, and the two brothers we had with us from the ward were all in tears. My heart was broken too, for this sister who has strayed so far from the path and does not want to return, despite a complete understanding of the truth. Although I don't know everything about this sister's life and what has happened to cause her to be like this, i felt prompted to share my testimony with her before leaving. I bore one of the most powerful testimonies I've ever given in my life, explaining with all the energy of my soul that the gospel is the only way to happiness and eternal life. I hope she felt something, because I know I sure did. I don't know what it will take for her to come back, but I hope she will in the Lord's timing. 

Manat Branch Half Day Mission
We don't get to watch General Conference this week, but will on April 12-13. They have to translate it into Tagalog before it gets to us here in the Philippines. I'm looking forward to the general women's broadcast on Saturday too. Enjoy GC in the States and be open to revelation that the Spirit and Heavenly Father will pour out on you if you listen!

I love you all,
Sister Gustafson 

PS- The Philippines was featured in this month's Ensign! woot woot!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Happy Summer ;)

Hello all,

Summer is in full swing here in the Philippines. School gets out this week and the heat is oppressive. Sister Baluyot and I are making it through with baby powder, electric fans, umbrellas in the sun, and ice cream whenever we get the chance :)

We had a super busy week! There are fewer hours in the day than souls we need to visit and meet! We had our district meeting on Tuesday, a trizone conference in Dagupan and exchanges all day Wednesday, weekly planning on Thursday, and a Branch missionary fireside on Friday. It was a great week though and I've learned so much this week :)

On Friday as promised we went to the Canlas Family's house for a surprise birthday lunch for Sister Canlas. We brought pancit (Filipino noodles) for them and sang to Sister C. She cried as we told her how much we love her and taught about the  peace that comes from keeping the commandments. After we ate the pancit, I was trying to clean up. I say 'trying' because washing dishes is really difficult without soap and only a scrap of a shirt for a dish rag. It's also difficult to sweep pancit off of a concrete floor with only a bundle of twigs tied together with a piece of rubber. I have always taken basic cleaning supplies for granted, but will no longer! 

Our Branch missionary fireside turned out great! Even though it started at standard Filipino time of an hour and a half late, we had a pretty good turn out of about 40 members :) We had 3 different rooms: one for the RMs in the branch to talk about their mission experiences, one about the importance of eternal families, and one room where we presented about how the branch members can get involved in doing missionary work in their branch. We ended up getting a lot of referrals and a lot of appointments to visit members and help them prepare their referrals. The branch is very on board in doing missionary work and it's great to have their support! :)

Yesterday at church, I was sitting in Relief Society (we have RS first here, not sure why) feeling kind of sorry for myself that none of our investigators came to church and that we wouldn't be able to extend any baptismal dates again this week. When all of the sudden, President Cayado (our branch president) stuck his head in the door and motioned for Sister Baluyot and I to come out in the hall. When we did we saw one of our investigators, Brother Arcenio standing there, looking a little lost and confused. He was wearing a shiny silky grey shirt that matched his grey hair. We escorted him to Elders Quorum and introduced him to some of the other men in the ward. As we went back to RS, my self pity was gone. How great shall be your joy if you bring even one soul to church! 
Then, as we were sitting in Gospel Principles, in walked Sister Divina and her 10 year old daughter! Her husband was a referral from some of the elders in our zone and when we went, he was at work, so we taught her instead. It turns out that her family was taught by missionaries more than 40 years ago and she still remembers the Book of Mormon they gave them! Anyway, we've only taught her twice, but she came to church!! Hopefully she wasn't too confused by the Restoration lesson we had in GP, as she walked in at the end, but we can fix that when we teach her that later in the week. We are seeing progress in this area and it is so exciting!! :)

I love you all!
Sister Gustafson :)

Monday, March 17, 2014


Yes, hungry. No, not food-wise- we had 6 dinners at members' houses this week- but hungry for the elected souls that Heavenly Father is preparing for us. We know they are in our area- the ones who will keep their commitments, who will come to church, who want to know the truth. Yes, our area is in a bit of a slump, as far as progressing investigators go, but Sister Baluyot and I are working like crazy to stir up referrals and find the elect! We spent quite a bit of time in members' homes this week, building them, encouraging them, and teaching them about their responsibilities as member missionaries. We earned quite a few referrals and a lot of appointments this week where the members will be working with us, so it's going to be a great week! :)

We have one super golden, really progressing investigator, Brother Roger. BUT.... he's leaving. He's going on vacation in Davao. For a month. booo. But it's okay. We know Heavenly Father has a plan for him and he will be baptized in His time. Brother Roger's wife is a recent convert and he has such a strong desire to be baptized too. He is in his 60's and has an amazing testimony! One of the coolest things about him is that he wants to do missionary work with us and he's not even baptized yet! We were asking him if he knew a referral that we received and he requested to come with us to the lesson! This is clear evidence that he's being converted. At the lesson with the referral, he gave the opening prayer and was just beaming afterwards. He is an adorable man. Sorry if that's a weird thing to say about an investigator, but he is just such a sweet guy. 

We have a less-active family in our area that really struggles. Brother Canlas is in a wheelchair from a stroke, the kids are always drunk and don't help out at home and the Canlas's grandkids really struggle in their situation. All of their financial and family problems fall on the shoulders of Sister Canlas and it shows. She always seems so worn down and looks as if the weight of the world is on her back. Sister Baluyot and I made a goal to find someone to serve this week and then on Friday we taught the Canlas Family. Sister C started crying during the lesson and we paused, trying to think of a way we could help them. And then my dear, wonderful inspired companion came up with the idea to give Sister C the day off. So on Friday, (her birthday!) we'll go to their house and do the cooking and cleaning while she takes a break. The look that came over her eyes when we told her that was amazing. There was a literal change in her posture and her tears changed from ones of sorrow to tears of gratitude. All she needed was someone to let her know they care and recognize her sacrifices for her family. I know Heavenly Father knows each of us and what we need, but often uses others to answer our prayers. Pray every day to be the answer to someone else's prayers and then look for the opportunities He will place in your path!

So we have a really busy week ahead: We need to plan a service project at the Canlas house, attend our tri-zone meeting all day on Wednesday, plan our branch missionary fireside for Friday and continue to find and teach and rescue and become. It's going to be a great week because every week is a great week in the mission, because the Atonement is real and the Gospel is true. 

I love you all!
Sister Gustafson :)

 We had lunch at a little place that sells Filipino-style shwarma
 with sisters Roberts and Kinikini :) masarap!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Emergency Transfers and Other Exciting Adventures!

Hello All!

Remember how last week I was in Manaoag with Sister Lagan? Well, now I'm serving in Manat with Sister Baluyot... Here's how it happened:

We were in our interview with our district leader on Tuesday afternoon when the phone rang. Sister Lagan fished the phone out of her bag and we looked at the screen, saw President Monahan's name, looked at each other, and then back at the phone. As soon as I heard President's voice on the other end, I realized what was going to happen. Sister Lagan was being called to her mission in Tacloban. And I was right. She started crying and didn't stop all through district meeting. So many mixed emotions for her, finally going to the mission she was assigned to but having to leave me, the branch and our beloved investigators. I talked to President too and he told me I would be put in a trisome and staying in Manaoag with Sisters McLain and Sumagpao. But I wasn't worried and I wasn't stressed. Then, President called again on Wednesday while we were at an investigator's house and told me that I would be going to Manat to be with Sister Baluyot whose companion was also going to the Tacloban Mission. And I still wasn't worried and I still wasn't stressed. I felt at such peace, knowing that where I go and whom I'm with isn't up to me; it's up to Him.

So now I'm here in the Manat Branch with Sister Baluyot. Even though we've only been together a few hours, I can already tell we will be good friends :) She is 24 and from Quezon City. She is very happy and laughs easily and plays the guitar. From what she's said, there's a lot of work to do here in the area, helping the members in their callings and beefing up the area book with more investigators. I'm excited to jump in and get right to work! Manat is known for its fish ponds, so I have a feeling I will be eating a lot of fish in the next few weeks!

So it was a pretty weird week... It was quite a strange feeling wanting to jump all in to the work in Manaoag but also knowing that I was going to be leaving...I prayed a lot to try to understand what my role and purpose was in serving there for only a week and I felt that my role was to love- just learn to love instantly. Sister Lagan really struggled with her trainer. her trainer told her she had no trust in leaving the area to her, that she had know idea what she was doing, that she didn't want to be friends with her etc. So from day one, I gave my best to building up Sister Lagan and her confidence and telling her that I love her. If anything I think Heavenly Father just needed me to learn how to love instantly and to always accept His will. I wasn't stressed and I wasn't worried when I learned I would be emergency transferred. There is amazing power that comes from the calling and authority of being a missionary- you feel that you can handle almost anything that gets thrown at you (especially if it's coming from Him, and I know the revelation about where I should be assigned is) because you have Him on your side. so even though I've had three companions and three areas in the last 3 weeks, it doesn't really bother me, because I know that it's exactly where He needs me to be :) 

We had a really fun experience last night that I think everyone needs to have in their lifetime- we rode to our appointment last night in the side car/cage of a tricycle that is meant for transporting pigs! We sat on chairs in the cage and Brother Eric (a recent convert) drove us to our appointment. It's quite a feeling, rushing through the night sitting on a chair in a cage meant for pigs, looking up at the night sky and feeling the wind blow through your hair. It's almost like the Philippines version of a convertible :) See the attached picture if my description doesn't quite make sense...

So the Gospel is still true (last time I checked) and it's a good thing too, because sharing it makes me so happy! I am so happy to be here!
Mahal ko kayo,
Sister Gustafson :)

Monday, March 3, 2014


Hello all,

This week I hit a really cool milestone in my mission. I'm in my 6th month in my 5th transfer with my 4th companion in my 3rd area (if you count the MTC as an area) in my 2nd congregation with my 1st branch. Pretty cool, right?

I am now here serving in the Manaoag Branch in the Mapandan District with Sister Lagan. She just finished training, which means I'm follow-up training her. I was not expecting to become a senior companion this transfer, but I'm really excited for the opportunity! Sister Lagan was originally assigned to the Tacloban mission, but got temporarily reassigned here in Urdaneta, which means any time she could be called to go to her mission. I hope it's not any time soon. We have become sisters in the last 3 days, which (like my dear Sister Young has said) means more than just being companions.  She's a great missionary and I am really excited to work with her! She is from Palawan, Philippines and is 22 years old. Her whole family is active and she is very beautiful! I want to send you a picture, but she said that the internet shops here all have viruses and I really don't want to risk losing all my pictures again. (Mom's note - She lost all 600 pictures on her memory card last week)

The area. It's GINORMOUS. That's all. 18 barangays. It's pretty overwhelming for me, coming from an area with only two barangays, where we could easily walk everywhere and know every meter of our area. I am praying and fasting for inspiration to know how to work this area and help it to be fruitful. It requires a quite different approach than Lingayen for sure, but I am confident that Heavenly Father will help us to know how we need to approach the work here. When I got here there were less than 10 investigators in the area book, which is a crazy big difference between Lingayen where we had 30 plus in the area book. We've been doing a lot of finding in the last 3 days, focusing on areas that are close by members.

The branch. I LOVE the Manaoag Branch so much already! They were so welcoming and so friendly. They do a great job welcoming our investigators and less-actives and I feel already that I will be very happy here!

The house. I can't complain one bit about the house. We have an actual couch and a shower that comes out of a showerhead, not a bucket- luxuries that are hard to come by here in the Philippines :)

We had some really cool miracles that I know came from our fasting this weekend: The Fronda Family. They have been investigators for more than 6 months and have been waiting to make a decision. They had to decide whether to get married and stay here in the Philippines or get their papers processed to go to Canada to work. It was a really hard decision for them and has caused the delay for their baptisms. We fasted that they would be able to make a decision so that they can be baptized. We went to their house on Saturday night and they told us that they decided to stay here in the Philippines and be married. They have their paperwork and will be married on March 21st and hopefully baptized soon thereafter, along with their 8 year old daughter. The light of the gospel just radiates from them and I know that the miracle of their decision to stay and be married and baptized is a direct result of our fasting!

 With the Fronda Family
Gilbert. He is 24 years old and will hopefully be baptized on March 29. We went to his house last night and he told us that he stopped smoking on Saturday- the day we were fasting that he would stop. It's exactly four weeks before his baptism- the exact amount of time required by the mission in order to be worthy for baptism. We pray that he will continue to have the strength to avoid temptation. He is so willing to follow all of Heavenly Father's commandments and I really feel that he will be a strong leader in the Church someday!
Miracles come from fasting!

So, this wraps up my letter for this week. The church is still true here in Manaoag and the work rolls on! Heavenly Father is good and I am so blessed to be able to serve Him here.

I love you all so much!
-Sister Mckenna Gustafson :)