Saturday, June 30, 2012

We bid you "Paalam na po"...

"Paalam" in Tagalog means "good bye - I am leaving now"...
And yes, it is time...
70,000km put on the car. 467 missionaries later...
It is difficult to describe our feelings as we depart for home after serving here for three years. With five children and ten grandchildren and family and friends waiting for us at home, our homecoming will be sweet, but not without some sadness of saying goodbye to the people we love here.

Despite our white colored skin, I think we both have become Filipino in our hearts.  Despite my legs not seeing the light of day for the last three years,  I am still waiting for shades of brown skin to appear - and dark black hair to appear on my bald head.  The color of our eyes is not yet black, but getting close...  Perhaps we need more time here?  Our feelings and respect for our Filipino friends are tender and we will miss them deeply.  We have become part of them and they have become part of us and now we must say, "Paalam na po".

What we will surely miss the most is our missionaries.  Every one of them that we have served with for the last three years.  They have come from Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuato, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, England, America, Canada and the Philippines.  I think our feelings about our missionaries can best be summed up using Helaman's own words, "And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay not amongst all the Nephites.  For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me, ...behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall...".
We will deeply miss being around them all the time.
We will also miss our senior missionaries that we love so much - The Andersens, Thomsons, Allreds, Perkins, Sister Cooper and Sister Walker, The Lindsays, Mortimers and the Engels. It has been such a wonderful experience to know and work with such consecrated people and they have truly enriched our lives.

What have I learned?
Many things for sure...  Firstly, that the love of Heavenly Father for every one of us is incredibly generous and tender and Divinely anxious (no exceptions please).  Secondly, that this is not my work but the Lord's.  We are stewards serving in the The Master's vineyard.  It's not my vineyard - but His. We have seen his hands, heard his voice, felt his Spirit, witnessed his miracles and tasted the sweetness of his infinate grace .  I have learned that most of his miracles have eyes and mouths and ears and noses and feelings, and they just need to be loved.  I have learned that greatness is not in us, but flows through us from Above.  I have learned the importance of having His Spirit to be with us always - as much as humanly possible.
What have I felt?
Firstly, deep gratitude to the Lord for so much.  Also deep gratitude to my wonderful 'asawa' Kathleen who has been the best eternal companion possible.  We could not have succeeded without each other.  That is the essance of marriage and companionship.
Secondly, hold on to the Iron Rod and don't let go.  Never quit.  Never say die.  Never, never, NEVER!  Stay firmly planted on that pathway to the Tree and keep your hand firmly grasped on that Iron Rod.   Nephi says that we must endure to the end.  That means never letting go and never giving up.  Those that do - will die.  I see it happen everyday.
What have I often been reminded of?
The correctness of the Restoration and the miracles that happened to bring it to pass and that I am standing on the correct side of the fence...  His Atonement and my part in it...  And also that 19 and 21 year old young men and women can move mountains and fight great battles and experience wonderful miraculous changes within themselves.  They are so impressive.
What would I do differently?
This one is hard to answer.  I think it is the little things in life that bring about the greatest changes.  The little things that add up along the way that make the biggest differences.  Big changes in life don't come by making big leaps.  They come by smaller steps of change and attitudes of pressing forward day after day, despite adversity.  It really is the small and simple things that make great things come to pass.  I would try to improve the small and simple things in hope to serve others in a more effective way.
What has been the saddest moments for me?
Having to see a missionary go home early.  I feel crushed.  But in some cases pain turns to joy and tears turn to smiles.
What has been the happiest moment?
Besides our grandchildren being born and the joys within our family - Watching our missionaries change.   I see them coming into the mission and watching them change and "become" what they need to become during their 18 or 24 months.  That has brought the greatest joy to mom and I.  Our happiest moments have come to us by just being with our missionaries and loving them, working with them and watching them.  We have received from them FAR more than what we have given.
What do I hope for the most?
Obedient, healthy and happy missionaries.  Also that our missionaries will go home and stay strong and true and have His Spirit to be with them always.  I also want the people of the Philippines to get out of their poverty and challenge.  Tithing and obedience, including Sabbath Day obedience will be the only way for that to happen.
What advice do I give to a new missionary?
NEVER give up!
What advice do I give to a missionary going home?
NEVER give up!   And prepare yourself to be offended many times.
What is my best advice to the new Mission President?
Besides to keep your cell phone turned on all the time - Love them with all your capacity - and then some more...  Be patient and firm.  Tell them what you expect.  And stay incredibly close to them without them knowing.  And don't stand between them and the Lord.  Point them all to Christ as much as you can, and not to yourself.  Expect greatness but be increadbly patient.  This will be my best advice.  And maybe also - have your wife make sure there are cookies in the freezer when tissues don't wipe the tears away.  Sometimes even a 19 year old just needs a breather and a handful of Sister Jensen's cookies.  She tell's all the missionaries that her cookies have a very special ingredient - "love". They just smile when she says that - and they know it's true...

Previously I shared a story that I still feel best describes our feelings...
Years ago I sat in a restaurant waiting for my breakfast.  I looked down at my menu and on the bottom of the menu was printed a little line that said, "Our company motto - Give the customer more than they expect."  My breakfast was served and indeed I was not disappointed at all.  The food came hot, delicious and abundant.  I have never forgotten that.  And I don't think the Good Lord has forgotten that motto either - because in our three years He has given us much more than we ever expected.  His love has been generous.  His tender mercies and blessings have been abundant.  We never could have imagined the abundance of rich experiences and blessings that were in store for us here.  When the call came to leave home, family and business - and come to serve a mission - we just said - "yes".  We always say yes to the Lord.  He always has a way of giving so much more to us when we love Him and just say - "yes".

Paalam na po to our loved ones here.   
Mahal namin kayo.  Magpakailanman...
President and Sister Jensen

June 29, 2012 Batch - 467 Missionaries is our final count

Our last batch.  So many to greet and welcome when they arrive. And so many to say goodbye too when they depart.  Every six weeks they come and go and we love every single one of them. All 467 of them we have served with in the past three years.  We shall dearly miss them in every way.

 Departing Batch
L2R: Elders Fraser, Pernecita, Dimas, Sister Bristain, Elder Shultz, Sister Latu, Elder Heninger, Sister Anderson and Sister Villavito.  Elders Campos, Frandsen, Teodoro, Sanchez and Baldado.
Incoming Batch
L2R: Elders Medallada, Sanchez, Kauer, Sister Lagrimas, Elder Virina, Sister Yousuf, Elders Santos, Orzal, Uchi and Salvador
Elder Kauer with his trainer Elder Hansen
Elder Sanchez and Elder Olson
Elder Wood and Elder Santos

Elder Medallada and Elder Tan 

 Elder Valasco and Elder Orzal
Sister Lazaro and Sister Lagrimas

 Elders Pedrola, Virina, Uchi, Dela Cruz, Salvador and Cesista

Sister Yousuf from Pakistan and her new trainer Sister Baraquiel

Elders love to eat.  That is for sure.  Our departing batch dinner.  22 in attendance.

Sister Mohinder and Sister Yousuf.
I call them my Pakistan bookends!

Sister Carol made her first cake ever today for our departing batch.  Most Filipinos here don't have an oven so baking is an unknown.  Carol did such a great job and we were so proud of her.

Sister Vivian is making Shanghi Lumpia here for dinner.
It was SO good!

Transfer Day inside the jeepney.  All is loaded and ready to head out.

Well, if you read the label on the can it says, "Grass Jelly".  We saw this in the store and just could not figure out what it was?  Could that be for real?  Grass - jelly?  We said we just had to try it.  So it has been sitting in the fridge for about four months now waiting for us to dive in...
Well we did it.  And how was it you ask? Well... out of politeness and cultural respect I shall not comment, but suffice it to say I would not recommend it.  It was dark brown in color and smelled similar.  And the problem we found is that the longer it stayed in my mouth, the more endearing the taste became...  Oh my!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bantocaling Branch

We went to Bantocaling Branch last Sunday.  A very small and little branch WAY out in the "bukids".  A very humble agricultural area mainly growing rice and corn.   There is no stake here yet, but a District called "Aguilar" with six branches.  We have six Districts in our mission.  Many in this area speak a dialect called Pangasinan, or Pangasinese.  The road with a little blue sign pointing the direction to the Church.
The concrete road quickly ended and turned into single lane dirt and rocks road with two more signs for about another two kilometers.
Hard to see in the picture but we passed this house with a great "clothes line" out in the yard.  Wash was so neatly hung and organized.  Pockets were turned inside out in all the pants and hung from big to small.   I like clothes lines here.  Everyone uses them because there are no electric dryers.   Most everyone washes by hand in a large scrub basin.  But clothes is always SO clean.  A close up in the next picture -

We passed a humble home.  One of many.
We arrived to the branch and parked the car on the road in front.  A small little rectangular three-room building.  The front yard and surrounding ground is used for crops, between plantings with a little walkway up to the gate.  We had a little "greeter" waiting for us at the gate.  We found the building to be clean and in good order.
One little primary class - the only primary class.  One teacher.  A beautiful spirit was present.
Relief Society lesson time.  Priesthood class was being held in another room.  Our two full time Elders were present today in the Branch.  They have two areas and have to share their time between two branches.
Dad with two little smiling future missionaries.
Sister Glenda came home about seven months ago from serving a mission in the Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission.  Dad set her apart as a missionary when she left - she had never been to an airport or flown in an airplane before.  Coming from such a small farming area she was very nervous about going to America and the big city.  She now speaks excellent English and helps her little branch in Mangatarem be strong.  Mangatarem Branch is also in the Aguilar District and is our farthest branch down south.  While most of our Filipino missionaries are called to serve in the Philippines, sometimes our locals are called to serve in an overseas mission.  We have seen several calls to Utah, Idaho, Hawaii and California.  It is good they can  have the opportunity to serve in places where the Church is strong and then come back to serve in their local branches.
After Church we had to get a picture with our friends here in Mangatarem.  Here pictured is Brother and Sister Mondero with her new little baby girl in her arms.  They named her "AP".  They also have two little boys named "DL" and "ZL".  Yes! :)  Their lolo and lola is pictured with them (they serve in the Manila Temple).  A faithful family.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Manila American WWII Cemetery and Memorial - May 2012

Sunday, May 20th, 2012 -
Today on Sunday, mom and I along with our dearest friends and mission president batch mates drove over to the great Manila WWII American Cemetery and Memorial.  We had just concluded a special Sacrament Meeting with our Area Presidency, all the Mission Presidents and wives in the Philippines, and also Elder Russell M. Nelson (also attending our Mission President Seminar this week).  In our three years of being here in the Philippines we had yet to visit and experience the great WWII cemetery in Manila and I very much wanted to see it before we go home.
This is the very spot where on April 28, 1961 (as noted in the last picture below), Elder Gordon B. Hinckley with a very small group of mostly military members from Clark Air Field, offered a re-dedicatory prayer to open the way for missionary work in the Philippines.  I previously noted the words of his prayer in another blog posting dated February 12, 2012.
And secondly, this is the sacred spot where SO many of our Pacific WWII solders have been laid to rest. 17,206 graves and also 36,282 names of Missing in Action.  The largest cemetery in the Pacific from the war. 1941-1945.
As I entered onto the grounds of this cemetery I felt that I was entering onto very special and sacred ground.  I have always been deeply patriotic, and today felt no exception.  I felt a great surge of patriotism, gratitude and reverence as I saw the solders that rest here, and for the freedoms that I enjoy, in part because of what they have done.
As I walked through the marble markers of 17,206 graves, I looked at the names and dates.  While I recognized no names, I recognized some of the dates based on a battle that I had read about and it made my feelings resonate even stronger.  In addition to the 17,206 white marble headstones, another 36,282 names of Pacific "Missing in Action" are engraved into large white marble walls at the center of this memorial.  (WWII produced over 73,000 total Missing in Action)  Here were posted the names of half of them...  So many...  I felt such great thanks for what they gave.  Every name has a story.  Every man had hopes just like mine.  I thought that in just a few weeks I will be able to go back to my American home and try to resume my life again, but for these solders that never happened...  Solders of all ages, young men never married and fathers of children.  Hopes and dreams dashed and given way to their return to their heavenly home. 

The day was so beautiful and while it was 95 outside, it didn't feel hot at all (I think I really have become Filipino!).  A gentle breeze was blowing - the air was silent.  The rows were so meticulously laid.  Every blade of grass seemed to have it's place and so perfectly kept.  I didn't see one weed or one brown spot over the 152 acres.  I thought this would be my dream to be a Gardner here.  I thought as I chuckled to myself that perhaps I could even pay them - to be a Gardner here?  I would like that very much.  I think I would be the best Gardner they would ever hope to have.
More than all the names I saw, I felt captured by the 3,744 headstones that had no name at all.  The "Unknown" solder laid to rest.
Beyond words and beyond any feelings that I can express in writing...
I thought about why they had no name?  How terrible the battle to take away a solder's name to not be identified?  So many stories perhaps untold and now forgotten.
Beyond words.  What I saw today must be felt...  and I would add, never be forgotten.
Perhaps the only name to be recognized for many of these unknown solders, would be the name of Christ?  After all, it was a cross that visually symbolizes their identity.  How symbolic also of our own Covenants at baptism and the "Name" we promise to remember.

The Star of David or a Cross?  Either a Christian or a Jew was his choice to make.
It seemed that when I reached the rise and top of one hill, another hill section of graves lay in the distance.  Section after section...  eleven sections total - spread over 152 acres in a circular design around a center memorial.  One section flowed to another and to another and to another.  It seemed to never end.  This is the largest military cemetery in the Pacific.  Other than the ocean itself I think...
And to be honest, I wept a few tears, and I tried to not let the others see my emotion.

President and Sister Tobias.  They are mission president and companion down in the Bacolod Mission.  Their daughter served in our mission for 18 months and returned home to the Manila area just a few months ago.   Us three couples were the only new mission presidents to the Philippines in 2009.  Now we go home together on July 1st.
President and Sister Odgers from Christchurch New Zealand presiding over the Laoag Mission right above us.  They are the mission at the very top in northern Luzon.

No, we don't know him.  Just one headstone of so many.  Each with their own story to tell.  I don't know what happened to S. Sgt. Straub?  I wish I did.  It could have been the air strike in Burma on October 1st by 34 of our P-47s when bombing Thetkegyin or the railroad corridor?  Or it could have been in China when 18 of our B-25's bombed Tien Ho and White Cloud Airfields in Canton, the town of Wuchou.  Or he could have been in one of the P-40's or P-51's on armed reconnaissance over the Yantze River that got shot down that same night of October 1st.  Or just maybe he could have been shot down in a B-24 when bombing Iwo Jima that very same day on October 1st?  The Philippines became a gathering spot for the dead.  It is really overwhelming to see so many...
How symbolic it is that today, the Philippines is also a great gathering place for the Christian blood of Israel.  The Philippines, with 659,000 members of our Church at this time, is the fastest growing location of membership in the Church today.  The Gathering continues...

There is such a quiet reverence here.
 I am standing in the center of the complex at the great memorial center, looking toward the entrance in the far distance.  Around the 152 acres, the city high-rises continue to grow and gather.  More of them everyday it seems as we see a dozen currently in construction.  Like tall concrete people standing around the circular cemetery.  Maybe standing at attention or in silent respect?  Or maybe standing to surround and protect the fallen?  The memorial is circular in shape and surrounds a large court-yard of grass, where stands the Philippine flag across from the American flag.  I have not seen an American flag posted for the last three years.  I looked at the stars and stripes and simply felt SO proud.  And also humbled.  Mom and I shall arrive home on July 3rd.  The follow day will be the Forth of July.  I think then too I shall feel a great sense of gratitude...
 Standing at the head inside the Memorial, on each side of me, to my left and to my right, is a long long hallway.  As I enter the hallway I begin to see walls and walls, of endless walls - of endless names of those "Missing In Action".  I can't believe what I am seeing...  36, 282 names and ranks and unit numbers, etched into white marble of those who were lost that cannot claim a headstone in the grass with the others.
 As I walked and looked at all the wall panels with endless names,  I occasionally saw a name etched into the white marble very different than the rest of the names.  Its etching was GOLD in color.  A name written in gold while the rest were written in black lettering.  I learned that the few gold names that I saw were those that received the "Medal of Honor".  What stories they would have had to tell...

 Panels and panels and panels down the corridor hallways.  Endless panels it seemed.  Endless names of those missing in action.  This photo only shows 1/4th of the panels.

 The center memorial has a large obelisk as seen here that rises 40 feet into the air.  This photo is the back side of it.  It appropriately reads:
It was at this Monument, on the other side, with all the steps leading up to the Monument (as noted in the picture below) where Elder Hinckley offered his historical prayer of dedication on April 28th, 1961.  It was within just a few weeks after his prayer, that the first English-speaking full time missionaries began to arrive into the Philippines.  A new day had begun for a nation of then 27 million people.  The days of gathering the war-dead had finished.  Now it was a new day for the great Gathering of the living.  Now in 2012, we are a nation of 96 million people with 659,000 members of the Church at present.  85 stakes and 85 Districts, 17 Missions.  And a Filipino Area President.  

As the six of us walked together looking at all the names on the large white walls, we stopped and sat down and together read aloud Elder Hinkley's 1961 dedicatory prayer.  It was a spiritual moment for us all.  And we all felt a deep sense of gratitude for these solders, our Savior Jesus Christ, and for the missionaries that had served so faithfully and with great hardships before us, and for our wonderful missionaries serving right now.  We felt a sense of deep gratitude for our own calling to serve these last three years.  What we have done and what we have given may not be much, but we add it joyfully and willingly to the Alter of Service.  We go home in just five weeks after having served three years here, with far more than what we arrived with.  As I said before, there are no words yet invented that can adequately describe our feelings.  It is hard to express what mom and I have experienced.  When we go home people will ask what it was like?  I don't know what I will say?  I will probably be more contemplative and less expressive.  More silent and less talkative.  More in touch with feelings than words...  Perhaps the feeling or single word that describes our experience best is - Gratitude.  Gratitude most of all to our Savior for the privilege of serving Him, and serving here.  And also to my sweet wife who I am so proud of for doing so much and so well.  The work will go forward boldly and nobly without us.  Another will come in our place to carry on.  And then another, and then another...  until He comes again.  The Stone cut from the mountain is indeed consuming the earth.  I see it happening everyday in splendid color and vivid brilliance.  As Joseph said, "Of this I have learned for myself"...

April 28th, 1961
Manila American WWII Memorial Cemetery
Dedicatory prayer by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley
(to read the prayer given, link over to the Feb 12, 2012 blog post)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Baguio Mission RM Gathering in Manila

While we were in Manila last week, we had the privilege of seeing some of our return missionaries and giving big hugs to all.  It was so wonderful to see them again.  Each of them so special and so full of hope  for their future and "future companion?"  We spent a couple hours laughing and having so much fun.  Even tried some 'match-making'...  Just look at their faces and you can see how they feel.

M is one of our return missionaries who sadly got very sick while serving and had to leave the mission for medical treatment.
In 2010 while being treated, M's hairline became like dads.  Here we are visiting him in 2010 at the MRC and all had a good laugh.
Tonight, M came to say say hi to all of us and now feeling MUCH better.  Hair and all.  Dad's hairline has not changed, but M had a wonderful head of new thick hair.

Elder Casidsid and Elder Ruiz both brought their sweetheart and new little arrivals.  Can't believe our 'mission-children' are having children already!  I guess that means we are lolo and lola now...

Elder Misa (above picture) lost his whole family in a landslide just a few months before he came to our Baguio Mission.  He served so faithfully for his two years and now lives in Manila trying to make his future.

It was great...