Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in Cambodia 2015

Dear Family and Friends, 
I hope that Christmas was a magical time and you guys had a very very merry Christmas. Christmas in Cambodia was not what I was expecting at all, but it was one that I will never ever forget. So many things happened that just don't go together with "Christmas", but in Cambodia it just made sense. It was interesting how everything played out. I'll go into more detail about our festivities in just a second. (: But first a recap on my week. 
Monday I had an interview with President Christensen (I just almost typed President Christmas... haha you can tell what's still on my mind.(: hahah) and he shared too much with me. I loved it!! It's so clear that he is supposed to be my mission president. He is definitely receiving revelation for me and for all the other missionaries in this mission. I know without a doubt that he was called by God to lead this mission. We only had one lesson on Monday. It was with our investigator, Ming Saruen. She is the sweetest neak ming. She always has a smile on her face and is always so willing to learn and listen to us teach. As I was teaching her about the restoration I felt the gift of tongues working through me more than I have than ever before thus far on my mission and boy was it the coolest feeling ever. I loved it. As I was talking she just got the biggest smile on her face and said "sister, I love hearing the sound of your voice. Will you keep talking?'" That was something I had never heard before. It kind of took me off guard. Usually people tell me that they can't understand me, but man, it felt way good hearing her tell me that. I just got way happy and just keep preaching the gospel. (: Awesome, right? 
Tuesday was very interesting. We went to District Meeting and watched the performance of the Mormon Tabernacle choir with the Muppets. haha I was way confused, but was laughing at all their little jokes. It was quite Christmassy. I loved it! I'm sure the Khmers, at least the ones who stayed awake, were way confused. I just had to laugh at that. haha that's what they think Christmas is all about- people singing with these giant puppets. haha. Close, but no quite. (: We then went out to lunch for sushi. It was SO GOOD. Just a little side note, my family loves sushi and every time they would go to get sushi I would tell them that I didn't like it and I would get something else... really I had never actually tried it and had no idea if I liked it or not, but I just didn't like trying new things, so I just never tried it, but I figured since I was in Cambodia I might as well try it, right? And I am so glad that I did. It was delicious. Then I had the amazing opportunity to go on an exchange with sister Haddock, sister fields new koon (gon), her new baby missionary. This exchange took place because sister fields is our sister training leader, so she goes on an exchange with all the sister in our zone. I was really really stressing out about this because she's brand new and I’m still pretty new too. I can't really understand people or really say what I want all the time, but I had been praying for strength and help. We went out and started teaching about Christmas. It was so cool to be able to finally teach about the birth of the savior. We planned a very powerful lesson that focused on the atonement. We taught 2 lessons and the second lesson took a turn I wasn't really anticipating. It was with a less active that used to be a really solid member, but then her family didn't have enough money, so she had to start working on Sunday and now doesn't have time to come to church. She just opened up about all of her concerns and usually I can't understand her to save my life, but I understand everything she was saying. HUGE MIRACLE. Me and sister haddock were able to bear very powerful testimony of the love heavenly father and Jesus Christ have for her and that as she relies on the atonement she can overcome all her trails and hardships. Then it started raining... what? so random. It's not the raining season and it hasn't rained for weeks, but it was another huge miracle because it gave us the opportunity to read in the book of Mormon with her. Such a powerful experience. She said she hadn't really had the desire to read, but we read with her in 3rd Nephi chapter 18 when Christ comes and institutes the sacrament. She was filled with the spirit. SO COOL!!!!!
Wednesday we got stuck at the railroad tracks. You guys don't really understand the railroad tracks until you've been there, but it's way sketchy. There's just trash everywhere and everyone is just always sick, but that's where we got stuck. Stuck how you might ask? Well let me tell you... my bike lock wouldn't unlock... We stood there for a good 30 minutes trying to get it unlocked... finally I decided to call the elders and they came to our rescue. They brought lock cutters, but ended up sawing it off with a very sketchy rusty saw. If anyone had gotten cut with that saw they would've had some huge problems... haha but I was finally free, so off we went. 
All right... enough about that. I'm running out of time and nothing else really happened. Oh, real fast. We have lost two investigators this week because they moved out of our area, so we literally have no work to do. We get to go meet less actives that don't want to meet us, but we are trying our hardest to contact and find some new investigators. (: 
Time for a Cambodian Christmas. (: Are you ready? Christmas eve, when we got home from proselyting that day, we cranked up the AC, got on our sweatshirts, popped some popcorn, and watched Mr. Kruger's Christmas because what's Christmas without that movie. It was so fun to watch sister Soeun watch it and try to make sense of it. She didn't really understand... but that's okay. Christmas morning we woke up and Sister Fields made us pancakes. They were so delicious. We rocked out to some good Christmas music, opened some presents, and then had personal study. We went to IBC (international book store) in order to buy some Santa hats to prepare ourselves for Christmas. Please note that whenever we were on our bikes we were singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs and wishing a merry christmas to everyone we passed. (: We then met our elders at the church and put together some fruit baskets for our bishoprics. Our elders serve in Tuol Kork and Tuek La├ík, so me and sister fields were able to spend Christmas together after all. We got the fruit all ready and after taking way too many selfies... we went on our way. We caroled all day. When we first started singing that first song, I was so overcome with the Christmas spirit. I loved it!!! They reactions were priceless. They didn't really understand the whole caroling idea, but they could still feel the spirit. It was kind of hard to carol because everyone's houses are just open, but when we went to the bishop's house we were able to knock, start singing and then just wait for them to come to the door. The bishop's wife, ming sophaa was the one who came to the door. In order to fully appreciate this you kind of have to know her, but she just stood at the door (it's a glass door, so it's see through) and just watched us sing. When she finally opened the door she was crying and said that she thought we were angels. She is the sweetest. She said how excited she was that we came and then the bishop started singing silent night with us. It was way fun. (: After caroling we went and got lunch at a phsaar (market)- me chaa. It was way delicious. Unlike any Christmas lunch i've ever had, but still way good. You guys should be way proud of me. I've taught myself how to semi-successfully use chopsticks. (: Also, Elder Slavens, one of the sweetest, most hilarious missionaries I’ve ever met paid for all of our meals... He said it was on the house as a christmas miracle. Too sweet. Then we went to the church and sister Souen was able to call her family. That was way fun to watch her face light up as she heard her mom's voice. It's cool for her because she's the only member in her immediate family, so she really has a huge missionary opportunity in front of her. After she talked to her family we went to our Christmas party. It was sad not getting together with all the missionaries in the mission, but it was still pretty good. We walked in and the room was so Christmassy red and green everywhere. We each got a Santa hat and a bag of candy. We had dinner. We literally had everything under the sun. It was so so so delicious. We watched a mission slide show. That was so fun to be able to see other places in the mission. At the end of the slide show there was a segment called the fruits of our labors and all the pictures of the baptisms from the last year were in there. That was way fun to see all those pictures-especially the pictures from my two baptisms. (: We then had a talent show. It was so fun. I've never laughed so hard in my life! We were supposed to watch the Christmas devotional, but we ran out of time, so we just had a quick testimony meeting. It was the most powerful testimony meeting I’ve been in since girls camp. Something about missionaries and the Christmas spirit that made it so powerful. One elder talked about how the lord doesn't send just anyone to Cambodia. He sends his strongest soldiers. I believe that with all my heart. Everyone serving here is so strong. The strongest people I’ve ever met. I'm so grateful I get to call them my family and work side by side with them. One of the biggest blessings. We sang one last Christmas hymn and closed the party with a prayer. We then cleaned up- we stretched that out as long as we could so that we didn't have to go home quite yet. (: After it was all cleaned we went home and finished opening our presents. My mom hooked me up real good with tons of DVDS. I am set for the rest of my mission. Also, way good cereal and snacks. I love my family. Even half way around the world they give the best Christmas gifts. (: But the best present came on Saturday when I was able to Skype home. That was the best to see their faces and hear their voices. Truly magical. Thank you modern technology. I'm not going to go into a lot of details, but i realized that things really haven't changed that much since I’ve left except for the fact they now have a dog and the fact that Hayden and Michelle are engaged, but it helped me realize how short 18 months is. I'll be home back with them before I know it. I've got to really start focusing on the work here. Serving with all my heart might mind and strength. Basically, I love my family more than I have words to express and as fun as it was talking to them, homesickness hit me way hard after I ended that phone call. I just started bawling. I won't go into details about this either because I’m sure you guys are all so sick of hearing about my problems, but let's just say I’m still trying to get past those blues. I'm trying to remember the times where I’ve been filled with love for the people and really feel like I love my mission, it's hard at times, but I really do know that this gospel is true and this is where I’m supposed to be right now doing the Lord's work. Thank you all for all your support and for the prayers said on my behalf. I can never express my gratitude. You guys are so amazing. THANK YOU!!! I pray that as this New Year begins you can really refocus your sight on the Lord and this gospel. It truly is the only way to find lasting happiness in this life and in the life to come. I know that with all my heart. LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!
Sister Zoe Loftus 
Double D

Sister Loftus realizing she likes sushi

Sushi group

Sawed off bike lock after being stuck at the railroad tracks

Sister Haddock, Sister Loftus, Sister Suon, and Sister Fields

Sister Fields surprised by the flash of a camera

Lunch with the group

Sister Loftus and Santa

All the sisters!

Sister Loftus Christmas day with her presen

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It Was the Load

Dear Family and Friends, 
Merry Christmas!!! How weird it is to think that this Friday is Christmas. It's still quite hot here, although it has cooled off quite a bit the past three days. It's been chilly, like you walk outside and shiver because it's so cold A.K.A 85 degrees haha. It's the weirdest. But there's no snow, no Christmas music, no signs of Christmas at all really... It's getting really hard for me. Everyone says that Christmas as a missionary is such a special time and it's so amazing. I'm still waiting for that realization to hit. Our ward didn't have a Christmas party... they are going to climb a mountain on the 26th and we can't even go because it is out of our area. So Cambodian. I haven't really sung any Christmas songs either... It's rough being with a native for the holidays because she does Christmas so different than what I’m used to. We've just been singing normal hymns in Khmer for companionship study. I think that has a lot to do with my blues... Sorry to be such a downer lately. I promise this isn't me and I’m trying everything I can to pick myself up and put myself back together. I was expecting a good Christmas celebration at church yesterday to kind of boost my spirits, but that didn't end up happening either. We sang how firm a foundation, nearer my god to thee, and high on a mountaintop. And the missionaries were the ones that spoke. That was kind of cool to be able to see everything that I've personally learned about Christmas this year, even with the lack of my typical Christmas. It was easier to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. In years past I thought a lot about the birth of Jesus Christ, but this year I was able to make the connection between Christmas and the Atonement. I'm pretty sure I mentioned this in my last email, but every morning during personal study I just realize it even more. Without the birth of Jesus Christ, we wouldn't have the Atonement. The two go hand in hand. It is so amazing to think of the Atonement and everything Jesus Christ experienced for each and everyone of us. The Atonement is taking on a whole new meaning for me in my life. I'm definitely learning how to rely on it and access that enabling power. In our 12 days of Christmas study book from President and Sister Christensen one of the talks was "They bear their burdens with ease" by Elder Bednar. Such an amazing talk. He tells a story of one of his friends that buys a truck and wants to show it off, so he takes it in the mountains to get some firewood. He ends up getting stuck. He doesn't really know what to do, but decided that he will cut the wood anyways. As he COMPLETELY FILLS the back of his truck, he then has enough traction to get unstuck and continue on his way home. Throughout the talk Elder Bednar refers back to this story saying, "it was the load”. That's exactly how I’m feeling right now. It's the load that I’m currently carrying that is going to shape and mold me into whom I need to be. I know that the lord has a plan for me, although at times I may forget it and my faith may be weak, but I am slowly building my faith and confidence and hope in the Lord. I know that Jesus Christ suffered for me, for all of us, in order to be able to succor us in our times of need. He has experienced it all and when we are at our lowest lows and feel like we are completely lost, He knows exactly where we are, walks to us, takes us by the hand, and leads us. 
How grateful I am for the knowledge that families can be together forever. Being away from my family for this Christmas season has been a lot harder than I anticipated, but as I think about the fact that I have eternity with them ahead of me, I can't help but smile. I am blessed with the best family ever. The Lord has placed so many amazing people in my life. I love each and every one of you. As you celebrate Christmas this week, think about all the blessings the Lord has given you, whether big or small. Whatever you are going through, humbly kneel before the Lord and pour out your heart in gratitude to Him. The love you feel is what this Christmas season is all about. He loves us more than we can comprehend and will always be there the listen, love, and comfort us. I know this Gospel is the way to find happiness in this life and in the life to come. I pray that each of us can continue to strive to keep the Christmas Spirit in our hearts all year long and remember the birth and Atonement of Jesus Christ. Sorry this email was all over the place... That's just a look into how my brain is working right now!! I promise I’ll try to make my email next week better and more spiritual and actually talk about the work (or lack of work) that is going on in my area right now. I had it all written out, but left it at the apartment... whoops!!!! 
Oh goodness. I almost forgot. We went ice-skating last pday and it was the most Christmassy thing ever. It was cold and there was Christmas music playing. Let it snow by Michael Buble came on and it literally started snowing (soap, don’t eat it!!!) I no joke started crying... it was so magical. 

Sister Loftus
Double D

Ice Skating in Cambodia, with snow (it's soap, don't eat it)

Cambodian snowman-ha ha 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Humility and Faith Bring Miracles

Dear Family and Friends, 
This transfer is changing the way I look at everything in the mission. It's been very very rough, but also very rewarding and I know that it will continue being both because that's what missions are all about. I remember in Sunday School one day Danner brought his finance and she had served in Ireland, I believe. I was getting ready to leave in about 3ish weeks, so i was talking to her a little bit about what missions were like. She said that it is full of ups and downs, but our goal at the end of it is to have more ups than downs. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. I don't think i really understood what she meant at the time or how relevant it would be for me. Up until this transfer started, i thought my mission was going to be a walk in the park, that i wouldn't have a hard time or challenge. Boy was I wrong. And how glad i am that I was wrong. As trying as this transfer has been, I've learned so much and will just continue learning. I've learned so much about the enabling power of the Atonement and how much we need to rely on prayer and Jesus Christ to get us through the good and the bad. I've been studying a lot lately about the Atonement. Even if I don't think what I’m studying will be about the Atonement, i still find it woven in the other principles. I've been reading a lot of conference talks from the most recent conference (THEY ARE SO GOOD!!!!!) and I’ve learned so so so much. When we humble ourselves and place our faith 100% in the Lord, He will literally take us by the hand and lead us. We still have a lot to do in our area and in our companionship, but things are starting to look up, starting to get better and brighter. We've seen miracles left and right- finding less actives' houses, being able to meet less actives that haven't met with the missionaries for a year, but the biggest miracle for me so far has been being able to teach about Christ's birth. We have an investigator, Sonan, she is from English class. Hopefully you remember her because she is my favorite. She really likes to practice speaking English with us, so we teach part of our lesson in English. She had some questions about Christmas and the story of the birth of Christ. I explained that and the spirit was so strong. She then asked how Santa Clause tied into it all... I didn't really know how to answer that, but was able to bear testimony that we celebrate Christmas to celebrate the birth of Christ and because of the birth of Christ He was able to perform the Atonement, giving us all the opportunity to be cleansed from sin, live again, and receive the strength necessary to get through daily life. I know this Christmas season is going to be way different than any Christmas I’ve ever experienced, but i also know that I’m going to gain a better understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. Without the whole commercialized part of Christmas, Christ is really all we have here in Cambodia. I'm really really excited to see what this Christmas season, as well as this transfer, holds in store for me and my area. 
Miracles that have occurred in the past week: 
1. The Sister AP’s were able to come to our area on Tuesday and help us get things started. We found a lot of less actives and were able to contact 20 people. Very successful today. Started to ease the stress a little. 
2. English class. I've really come to love English class. I can be as goofy and as awkward as I want and most of the time the students can't even understand me, so it makes it even better because then I’m just up there in front of all the students laughing at myself. hahahah guys, I am SO awkward!!!
3. We had a lesson with a recent convert. When we got in there Sister Sueon (I’m not really sure how to spell her name in English... haha) my companion, just kind of started teaching something completely random... I just let her go with it. After she was done, our RC said that that was exactly what she needed to her. I was feeling really down, because i wasn't really receiving revelation for my RC, but had the impression to give our original lesson (2 Nephi 4) as homework. As I began to share our recent convert got really emotional and told me that she had wanted to read this chapter for weeks, but hadn't been able to find it. In that moment I felt like I was finally fulfilling my purpose as a missionary. 
4. It's kind of a long story, but we had an investigator get confirmed yesterday. She got baptized in Siem Riep and then moved here for school. We met with her on Saturday and she seems really solid. New recent convert for us!! (:
5.We had a Christmas Activity last night. It was so Christmassy. It really invited the Christmas spirit. I LOVE CHRISTMAS SO MUCH GUYS!!!!! I don't have much time, but know that it was so so so good.
6. There are so many other miracles, but I’m running out of time. Just know that the Lord is taking care of me and His children here in Cambodia. Things are starting to work out. I know that as I continue to exercise my faith, miracles will continue to happen. 
Thank you all so much for the prayers on my behalf. They are greatly appreciated. Never have I felt more love. You guys are amazing! I look up to each one of you! Love you all!!! Merry Christmas! Remember Christ everyday and think of what gifts you can give to him. Maybe it can be a gift of time, reading your scriptures, going to church. Think of something that you don't normally do, make it a sacrifice. Remember He paid the price for all of your sins, He sacrificed the greatest FOR YOU. The least we can do is remember Him during this season. 
Sister Zoe Loftus
Double D  (Double Disciple)

Lunch with the Sisters in our District after District Meeting-Oh so fun!!!!

Welcome to language study... my companion doesn't even know what sound the letters make. Talk about a throw back to Kindergarten...  

This spider was HUGE. I was going to hold it and then got too scared... kind of regretting my decision to not hold but what can you do?

A less active that attends our English class gave me this bag of chocolate coins and said "Merry Christmas! Thank you for serving!!" HOW SWEET!!! 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Week One of a New Transfer

Dear Family and Friends,
First off, I hope this email finds you happy and smack dab in the middle of the holiday season and cheer because that is not the case here in hot, humid Cambodia. The mission home is full of Christmas Cheer. There's a Christmas tree, Christmas music, all the works, so that's really fun to go into on p-day. Occasionally we'll be biking and we'll see some Christmas decorations at a store and we just have to stop and have a moment of silence, but for the most part, Christmas really isn't a thing. BUT we are planning on decorating our apartment today, so hopefully that helps bring the Christmas spirit a little more to Cambodia. Second, this email is not going to be very great. I've got a lot on my plate currently and a lot of my brainpower is going elsewhere, so bear with me. My transfer call has put a lot of stress on me, but after many MANY prayers, tears, and some motivational talks from people who care a lot about me, I’ve decided to change my attitude and really rely on the Lord. Thank you Mom, Dad, Hayden, and Michelle. I couldn't be here without you guys supporting me every step of the way. 
Tuesday we had an interesting experience- cooking cookies in a microwave. Let's just say that it didn't really work out as well as we were planning, but we still ate them because you can't let cookies go to waste. (: They looked way nasty though... haha 
Wednesday Sister Fields had to go to MLC, so i had the privilege of going on an exchange with Sister Semones. It was a throw back to the days at the MTC. It was fun to have a little reunion with her and be able to catch up. It's amazing how close this work draws you together with your companions. I'm so grateful for that. They truly do become "eternal friends". Wednesday night we had English class and me and sister fields taught our last minute prepared spiritual thought. Some how that managed to work out and the spirit was incredibly strong. Things are starting to click in the students' head. We taught about how a knowledge of Jesus Christ can help them. It was really cool to watch them as we taught. There's one student, a guy, probably about 25 years old, who has been coming for a really long time. He's never really had much of an interest in learning with the missionaries, but it finally clicked!! He started learning with the missionaries and has asked us to give the spiritual thought in Khmer, so that he can really get the full effect of the spiritual thought. How cool is that? The Lord's hand is definitely in the work here. Also, we had 47 students in our class and 99 over all. MIRACLE!! That has never happened. 
Thursday was straight up the longest day of my life. First off our tuk tuk driver got lost... we ended up getting the "grand tour" of Phnom Penh and got to the mission home WAY late... Poor sister Suen was just sitting there. I walked in and she was sitting on the couch and all she said was "It's you! “and hugged me. We chilled at the mission home for a really long time and eventually went to get lunch of KFC. Sister Suen wanted one more lunch with her mom (trainer), so i had to go to. It was me and a bunch of Khmers... very interesting dynamics haha. I was feeling pretty good until we got home and i realized that i didn't really know a lot of people in this area. When i was serving with sister fields, we spent a lot of our time in our other area, so this one is lacking in many aspects of the work. We have a huge 3 inch 3 ring binder full of less actives that need to be found. Talk about stressful. My lack of the language is currently making it very difficult. Sister Suen is still very new (both of us have only been here 2 transfers) and she is very quiet, so she doesn't really like talking to people, but i can't really talk to people, i mean i try, but they don't understand, or choose not to understand... It makes the situation pretty interesting. Needless to say there were lots of tears shed that first night. Luckily I was in the house with sister Fields, who is my sister training leader, so i was able to talk things out with her. I just feel this huge weight on my shoulder and have many feelings of inadequacies... but like i mentioned before i have changed my attitude and am really trying to stay positive. 
Friday i realized another stressor- the language barrier between me and Sister Suen. I ask her what a word means in Khmer and she explains the word to me in Khmer using about 7 other words that i don't know... basically I'm not sure how I'm going to learn this language. haha i just end up laughing cause i have no idea what she is saying... haha. I had another break down on Friday night. It's cool if that happens on a a nightly basis, right? (: I talked to sister fields and she gave me a lot of great motherly advice and we came to the conclusion i needed to call president. 
Saturday i did just that. I called him and explained everything that was going on in my head and he immediately came over. I love that about President-he cares so much about us and takes action. We talked some things through. He told me that he knows that this call came directly form the Lord and that I am going to learn so much from this transfer. Sister Christensen told me that i am stronger than i think and can do hard things. He then gave me a blessing. Having them come over was exactly what i needed to get me through that day. Sister Suen gave me the cutest skirt. She said it looks better with my skin color. haha We got to go to stake conference and we talked about missionary work. It was really good. 
Sunday we had stake conference again. Sister fields accidentally locked us inside... but she came and saved us, so it was okay. That session of stake conference was focused on the Atonement, exactly what i needed to hear during this point of my mission. Very good. We spent a lot of times looking though our book of less actives and then we went and contacted. After contacting we had an appointment at the church. We walked in and this girl was sitting on a bench, she looked so familiar. She was one of our less actives. I sat down and started talking to her, in my broken Khmer. Turns out she's been busy on Sunday mornings, but has been attending a different ward and when the time changes in January, she'll start coming again!!!! Miracle! She then came and helped us in our lesson. Such a cool experience. 
I've decided that I’ve got to take things one step at a time, maybe one day at a time, maybe one hour at a time, but if i look at this transfer as a whole, it will make things even more difficult than it needs to be, but if i break it up maybe it will be manageable. Also, finding miracles in everyday is going to be key. Relying on the Lord is the only way I’m going to get through this... So as i rely on the Lord, i encourage each of you to do so as well. I know that we all are going through something difficult in our lives. Sometimes we may feel completely alone, or inadequate to do the task at hand, but the Lord knows us to perfectly, far better than we know ourselves and he knows that we can do it. Never forget that. The love he has for us is so real and as we try with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, he will take us by the hand and lead us. I love this gospel so much. It brings so much joy, peace, and happiness into my life. We are so blessed. During this Christmas season, think of Christ, his humble birth, and how he can bless your life if you let him. I love him with all my heart. Teaching his gospel is such a huge blessing!! Love you all. Thank you so much for all the prayers. I can definitely feel them. 
Sister Zoe Loftus
Double D

Microwave cookies-what?

Sister Loftus and Sister Fields

Sister Loftus and new companion Sister Suen

Sister Loftus in new skirt from Sister Suen