Monday, October 27, 2014

Eyewitness to His Majesty

Thailand Isaan misisonaries.
These sweet women gave us six referrals this week.

Dearest Family Family Dearest,

I wish I had the words to describe how I feel at this exact moment. There are too many feelings and thoughts to pinpoint exactly one emotion, but I think there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude to my God for all that He has given me. He has been so good to me in giving me the opportunity to serve in the Thailand Bangkok Mission for 18 months of my life.

This week was such a good week. Sister Packard and I saw many miracles. We found a family. We miraculously happened upon the house of a less active couple who haven't been to church in years and were just waiting for an invitation to come back. We received more referrals this week than I've seen in my entire mission. I've laughed more and loved more than I thought was possible, even when so much of what we worked for kept falling through on us. I have seen the Lord working miracles and teaching me very specific lessons this week, for which I will be always be grateful. 

This week I sat down each night after planning and started listing out some of the things I have learned from my mission. I love this verse of scripture: "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9. I testify that this is true. I have seen and learned so many things I will never forget. I never could have imagined all that has happened to me and my family because of my mission. Here is my list, in no particular order. (I tried to cut it down and keep it short. But I couldn't. I just couldn't do it.)

I have learned how to kill cockroaches. I have learned that Windex will get rid of ants if you don't have any bug spray. I have learned how to eat food I don't like with a smile on my face and say it's good (Did I learn how to lie on my mission? Oops...) I have learned how to use a squatter toilet. I have learned how to ride my bike against traffic. Oops. I have learned how to ride my bike with no hands (sorry, President...I've repented). I have learned how to catch a tuukae. I have learned that I can tan (mission blessings are real). 

I have learned what true faith is from the examples of countless missionaries, members, investigators, and especially President and Sister Senior.

I have seen miracles. Countless miracles in the lives of so many people, in this mission, and in my own life. It is hard for me to wrap my head around how good God is to us.

I have learned how to work hard until I feel like my body is going to give out on me. I wish there were no restrictions on our bodies so I could do all that my soul wants to do without getting tired.

I have seen that everyone will break on their missions. I truly believe that it's a part of our calling—we have to experience a piece of what Christ experienced. We get broken so that we can be shaped into what God needs us to be.

I've learned that God always places us exactly where we need to be. There are no coincidences in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have learned to love myself in spite of and because of my flaws. I've learned how to use the Lord to help me change and become. I am learning how to become the person that God has always intended for me to be.

My will and my desires are not always God's will and desire for me. And when I look back, I always see that God's way is the best way. 

Sometimes the people we are called to serve are simply our fellow missionaries.

I have learned that love heals.

I have learned that love is the most important thing that we can share as missionaries. When we love as the Savior and our Heavenly Father love, those we work with can better understand who their Savior and their Heavenly Father actually are.

I have learned that we are forever family with the people we love and serve, even if we are not actually related.

I learned that I have the ability to choose for myself. Sometimes God won't answer all our questions, because He wants us to learn and grow and exercise our agency. 

I have learned how God works. He is a God of Miracles and a God of Surprise who would do anything for His children.

I have learned how to listen to the Spirit and recognize the many different ways He works with me. I've learned how to help others recognize this as well.

I have learned how to be a good decision maker. (Okay. I'm still working on this one.) But I have started to overcome my indecisiveness.

I have learned how to trust the Lord and how to trust myself.

I have learned that all of the work I have consecrated to the Lord is not for naught. All of my work has resulted in miracles, though they are not necessarily for me or my companionship or my district, zone, or even my mission. Though I feel like sometimes I am seeing no results, God is making miracles happen through my efforts; miracles that He needs the most; miracles that have been years in the making.

I have gained such an appreciation for my family. I have always known that I am so very blessed to have the family that I have. I have always loved them and I have always been grateful. But that appreciation and love has grown infinitely larger on my mission. 

I have seen how immensely my family has been blessed. If I were to talk about these blessings, I might start crying and I'm saving the crying for later. The Lord has been so good to my family.

I have seen that my mission is just as much for me as for the people I am serving. I always thought that the people here needed me, probably because I was a little self-centered. I'm human. And while I did help people, I feel like they helped me more than I did anything for them. Because of my people, my eternities have been changed forever.

I have learned what D&C 18: 15-16 really means. There is joy in bringing souls unto Christ. This is not, however, limited to people who get baptized. This joy is with every single person I have ever worked with, be it an investigator, convert, less active, or active member. My joy is with all of these people. It's with my fellow missionaries. Together we have built eternal friendships and one day we will celebrate together with our Father in Heaven. We will all be in each others' arms, facing all of eternity, knowing nothing but pure joy and love.

I have learned why missionaries are so happy all the time. In our call letter, it states that there is more joy waiting for us in the mission field than we have ever known. That joy is a direct result of testifying of our Savior. I am the happiest I have ever been; these have been the best 18 months of my life because I have spent all of my time and efforts inviting others to come unto Him.

The most important truth I have learned is actually something I already knew. God is our loving Heavenly Father. His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. He is the light and the life of the world. Christ's true church was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. We have a living prophet on the earth today. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. As a representative of Jesus Christ I testify and promise that these things are true and will change our lives forever.  

Thank you. Thank you for your love, letters, packages, and especially your prayers. Thailand has been a land of miracles. This is the work of God. It is all truth. If nothing else, I have been an eyewitness to His majesty as I have served in Thailand. I love my mission. I love being a missionary with all of my soul. I love my people. I love my God. I feel like I am the most blessed person in the entire world. I am forever grateful to have been a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Thailand Bangkok Mission. 

I love you, family. I can't wait to hug you on Friday.

Sister Hughes
Brother Broken and Sister Sombat. We miraculously found their house
and the first thing they brought out was the photo of their baptism.
Sister Porn made us fried somtam. That stuff is delicious.
Here is a pomeranian with drawn-on eyebrows.
This is our sweet family. Please pray for Meow, Nan, and Ae.
This is our coordination meeting with the Branch Mission Leader ...
he made us do Thai alphabet worksheets before we could talk about anything else. Hahah.
Last family dinner at the Browns.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connecting with Heaven

Our district in Udon (plus Laos ... we adopted them for the weekend)

Dearest Family Family Dearest,

This week has been wonderfully INSANE. We had rice harvesting and switch-offs and traveling and hotels and announcements and all sorts of CRAZYYYYY things! Read on for more detail :)
(Sorry in advance for the length of this letter.)

First an unfortunate truth: my memory card got corrupted. The Elders assure me that the files are recoverable, but they said to do it in the States. So you may have to wait a few weeks to see some more photos of that hike. Luckily everything else was backed up on my hard drive. (Getting a hard drive was THE best decision I ever made; every missionary should have one to back their photos up on...)

Second, the greatest miracle of this last week: Ploy, who was baptized while I was in my very first area, went to the temple. In Hong Kong. And nothing could bring me more joy than that. I wish I could explain the feelings in my heart, but there are no words that I can think of (in English, at least). All I can say is that God is good. 

The beginning of the week started out fairly normal. Tuesday and Wednesday were the normal working/serving/teaching days...and then Thursday morning Sister Porn called us and said, "Sisters! My rice is ready to harvest! Come and help me!!" So we heeded the call and I got to wear these AWESOME green boots that someone had left behind in our house forever ago and we worked in the fields harvesting rice. And I learned that the comparisons made by the Lord of harvesting and missionary work are spot on.

Harvesting rice is hard work. You are hot and sweaty and tired and your back hurts. And you feel like as you are working, you are not doing much. The mud you are standing in smells and there are spiders that can swim in it. (That is not a joke; I did not know spiders could swim and it's terrifying.) But somehow, it is the most fun work in the world. I loved the sweat and the mud and the sunshine and listening to Sister Porn tell us stories as we worked. This is a manual labor that is so satisfying. Looking back and seeing all the rice we gathered, the sweat and the spiders were all worth it. 

 1 Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.
 2 Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
 3 Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work;
 4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;
 5 And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.
 6 Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.
 7 Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.

The parallels with missionary work are endless. This is my favorite: God is the sickle. When harvesting rice, we first gather it with our sickle and then we grab it with our hands. You never grab the rice first, (or else you'll cut off your pinky finger—or so I was told). After gathering, you then cut the rice with the sickle. There is an order to it. God prepares the people we find; He prepares the people that find us. We grab a hold of them. He does the rest. And that's how it works. It was probably the best personal study I've ever had on my mission, finding as many parallels as I could. And the result? A marvelous work and a wonder. Food for a month. A spiritual feast for a lifetime. More joy than you ever thought was possible.

Friday was spent making brownies. For the huge tri-district conference this weekend, we needed to have over 1,200 brownies. We were asked to make we spent a whole afternoon baking at the Brown's house with our RCs. Yes, we taught Brother SriThai how to make brownies. Was it the most fun thing ever? It was. 

Saturday we got on a bus with the members to go to Khon Kaen for the weekend. I love bus rides with members. I am convinced that everyone's true personalities come out on bus rides. And here in Thailand, no car ride is complete without sticky rice. Sister Porn passed out sticky rice and later told us that it was the rice we had harvested days earlier. :) There was singing and all manner of mayhem on that bus. So good.

In Khon Kaen, the church had rented a convention hall. Saturday was the Celebration of the Isaan (Northeastern Thailand). We all got to wear some traditional Isaan clothing and there were lots of performances and there was lots of food. The best part though, was the people. Everyone from Sisaket was there. My heart was so full of joy and love for all my people, from Sisaket and Udon. It is incredible how much your heart can hold as a missionary, but equally as incredible is the ability of the people to love you. There is a lot of love in Thailand.

Sunday was just as wonderful. We had church in a ballroom of a hotel. The grand announcement...The Khon Kaen district was dissolved to create two larger districts in the Isaan—Udon and Ubon. This is to help us prepare to have a 3rd stake in Thailand by the end of the year. We are so close to having a temple here in this wonderful country. I cannot wait for the day that I hear the prophet announce the Bangkok, Thailand temple in General Conference. 

We spent Sunday afternoon and evening together as missionaries. We had the most special meetings. We had dinner all together with President and Sister Senior and Elder and Sister Gong. We then had a fireside all about the sacrament. It was so special to focus in on what the sacrament truly means to me and how I can be changed by Christ through partaking of it. 

After our devotional, we had the most amazing meeting in the world. Elder Gong received special permission from Elder Holland to hold a sacrament meeting with us. It was just the missionaries, Elder and Sister Gong, and President and Sister Senior. We were all focused on ourselves during the sacrament—remembering the covenant we made when we were baptized, recognizing the Savior’s sacrifice and the hope because of it. And I don't remember the last time I was able to do that, especially as a missionary. I can't remember the last time I was able to prepare myself for the sacrament in this way. I try to be ready for the sacrament each week, but I always seem to get lost—I get caught up in my investigators. I get caught up in who is sitting with whom, and who doesn't have a friend yet, and who hasn't made it to the church yet. I get caught up in focusing on everyone around me, and I don't think that is a bad thing, but I think I realized that I haven't taken the sacrament specifically for me in almost 18 months. It's funny. I feel the closest to God that I have ever been in my life while I have been on my mission. I have never felt to understand Him more clearly. But at the same time, I have felt far and sometimes distracted, especially on Sundays, for all the aforementioned reasons. I felt that for the first time, in a long time, I truly connected with heaven during a sacrament meeting.

Monday we spent in trainings with President and Sister Senior and Elder and Sister Gong. This Mission Tour meeting was incredible. We learned about the importance of the family, stakes, high priests, and temples. We learned all about the Restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith. And we learned about being one through Christ. It was perfect.

We spent the rest of the day traveling back to Udon. And here I am! My last P-day in Udon. Next week, I will email you on Monday, but I will have my P-day on Wednesday in Bangkok. How strange to be at this point. I don't think about it too much, though. There is too much to do. I am so grateful for the weekend I had that gave me a huge boost to get out on the streets and work my hardest to the very last second. I love you all!!

Sister Full.

(A favorite joke of members..."Eat more! Your name is Sister Hungry!" To which I respond, "No, now I am Sister Full.")

I met Elder Angkham's parents. They are the cutest people in the entire world. 
Brother Somsak and Sister Tan. So good to see them again. 
Me and little Chompoo! My favorite little girl. She screamed when she saw me. : )
Me and PREM!!!!!!!
Me and my Sisaket girls before their AMAZING performance.
Me and my little girls. Ney, Em, Cat, and Aom.
After Ribbon's performance.
Remember Sister Cartoon from Sisaket who said, "I choose God" and was baptized?
Her mother and brother have been baptized since I left, and her father is now learning as well. <3
Me and my คู่!! (companion) Sister Packard
I loved the hotel because there was no durian allowed. Haha.
Missonaries from all three Isaan zones—Udon, Ubon and Khon Kaen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

“I may look like Piglet, but I have the strength of Pooh Bear.” —Elder Pyne

Wat Phu Tok, Bueng Kan*

Dearest Family Family Dearest,

I am sorry this email is so late in getting to you! I'm glad the Browns got ahold of you, though, and you are not worrying. We got back from our epic district P-Day hike a little later than expected, so not a lot of time here. This will be fairly short; I need to get to work! : )
And to anyone I did not respond to...I'm sorry! 

This week was great. A lot of working. A lot of gratitude in my little suitcase heart.

This week President Senior showed up by surprise and conducted interviews with our district here Udon. The timing could not have been more perfect. It was much needed and he was able to answer so many of my questions. I am so grateful for my mission president.

This week Sister Packard and I had a wonderful experience with inspiration and following promptings: We are working with a recent convert who has become less active. We have been trying to contact her for weeks and just couldn't seem to get ahold of her. The other day, we were going to an appointment at another less active member's house when I had the thought, "Go see Jiin." We pulled over at her house and for the first time in weeks, she was sitting in her living room. God directs us in the most quiet of ways. The Spirit is almost never overwhelming—certainly, there are those times—but for the most part, I have learned over my mission (and over my life time) that I just need to trust the promptings from the Lord and then trust myself. And when you do, you will find yourself sitting in Jiin's living room and helping her to rekindle her testimony in her Savior Jesus Christ.

I loved Conference. SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. I felt like there were quite a few common themes that have followed me throughout my mission—how to make good decisions, the reality of absolute truth and how to find it, and the importance of the strength of our personal testimonies. It's funny, everything that our church leaders were inspired to say answered my missionary questions and personal questions about my future. I have no doubt that our church leaders are inspired of God. I have no doubt that when we follow the things our living prophet teaches, we will be happy. God has a standard that we must each choose to follow. When we follow God willingly, He will continue to reveal His plan to each of us personally. It's our job to choose to follow our Savior, Jesus Christ. General Conference, man. It's good.

Today for P-Day we went on a hike out in a province called Bueng Kan. We went to this temple on top of a mountain called Wat Phu Tok. It means "temple on the single mountain." It was so FUN. It was the craziest hike; we were walking around on these little rickety wooden beams and climbing up stairs that were so steep and adventuring through rain forests. When we got to the lookout points you could see pretty much all of Thailand. It was the BEST thing ever. So much fun. :)

This coming week will be exciting, we have a district conference in Khon Kaen on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. All three of the districts in the Isaan (Udon, Ubon, and Khon Kaen) will be meeting together. I am so excited for it. And, I will be able to see all of my people from Sisaket!!! And there are apparently some major announcements going to be made...Saturday will be a huge cultural celebration, as well. Monday will be our Mission Tour (Zone Conference with a member of the Area 70 present). (BTW we will most likely be emailing home on Tuesday, but be ready for Monday emails, just in case. I have no idea how P-Day is going to work haha.)

I love you, family. I am so grateful for you and your love. Talk to you next week :)

Sister Hughes

Photos...well. I don't have my card reader today because we got back later than we planned on, so we just came straight to the internet place... the photos from Elder Black will have to suffice for this week. I'll send next week, for sure.

Quotes of the Week

Sister Packard: "Two eyes are better than one!" (I had to agree...)

Elder Black: "Magic is this card game. It's my one geeky hobbit. SHOOT. I mean hobby."

Elder Pyne (who has been nicknamed Piglet and Pooh Bear his whole mission): "I may look like Piglet but I have the strength of Pooh Bear." 

(*JH note: Wat Phu Tok courtesy Google images)

Monday, October 6, 2014

On the Road

Dearest Family Family Dearest,

This week has been a week of moving. Off and on the road. 
It was all so good :)

On Tuesday night, (after spending all of Tuesday moving houses -- we now only live 3 houses down from where we used to live haha, but it still took FOREVER), Sister Packard and I boarded an overnight bus with the Zone Leaders to go to Bangkok for our Mission Leadership Council on Wednesday. It was a really great training meeting; we have been focusing as a mission to be better “all-around” missionaries—not only to find, teach and baptize—but to also help retain and reactivate. We are now a BRAFTing mission (Baptizing  Retaining  Activating  Finding Teaching). As missionaries, we need to spend time each day being organized and better focused on all five of these areas, and we learned  to also train other missionaries. We focused on how we can better serve. We have amazing, dedicated missionaries in this mission; so inspiring and good.

That day we had THE best surprise ever in the whole wide world. Brother Ford, from Lampang, was in Bangkok for the week and he showed up at the training meeting. We got to talk to him as we ate lunch. It was so great to see him again. He is such an awesome person. I feel so blessed to know him. 

Thursday we spent in Nong Khai, training the elders there how to BRAFT like Iron Men. Friday we were in Sakonnakhon, doing training there. And then on Saturday we were back to Udon again where we trained our own district on BRAFTing. Now we're home in our own area. (I've counted, and of the 12 weeks that I will be in Udon, I will have been traveling for 7 of them...haha.) It was a great experience traveling around Thailand. I love riding on the buses through the Esaan and seeing the fields of rice and skies that go on for miles, listening to people selling grilled chicken on a stick yell at us through the bus windows, talking with other travelers, and getting stuck behind lines of water buffalo blocking the roads. It's a good life out here. I really do love it.

With all that time on the road, I have spent a whole lot of time reflecting on my mission. I love sitting in cars and just thinking. (Can that be considered a hobby? If it is, it's one of my favorites.) I have reflected on how grateful I am ... for everything. How grateful I am to be in Thailand. My soul is just so happy to be a missionary.

"Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ ... yea, my soul delighteth in His grace, and in His justice and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death." (2 Nephi 11:4–5)

It's funny, because when you get your mission call, you wonder if it's because there is someone who needs you -- is there someone in the Thailand Bangkok mission who was waiting specifically for me? And yes, there are those wonderful people. I promise that. But I have also found that I was called to this mission because God knew that I needed these people, much more than they need me. Because of my people, my eternities have been changed forever.

All of my love,
Sister Hugh

Wat Sala Kaew Kuu in Nong Khai. 

Brother Ford! 
Borrowing jackets at the church to try to stay warm!

"What do you get when you win the Superbowl?" —Elder Lim
This question was posed in one of our zone trainings this week and Elder Williams responded, "SALVATION TO THE THAI PEOPLE!"  He got a gold star.