Monday, December 19, 2016

The Elders Are Leaving Laos

My dear family and friends, I have very sad newsI never know how much we can disclose to our families about what happens here, but I was given permission to say what is happening and why are are being kicked out of LaosAs missionaries in Lao, we run under the direction of DIC (Deseret International Charities). We are volunteers, and we teach English at many places around VientianeWe have legal agreements called MOUs (Memorandum of Understandingwith each of the places that we teachThe elders' visas and anyone who works for DIC comes in with visas that are attached” to these MOUsSo as long as the MOUs are finished and OK, the elders are OK

For whatever reason, this year the process of getting the MOU is not OK. The process is not completeOur visas, which expire at the end of 2016, are attached to the MOUBecause the MOU is not completed, the elders have to abide by Lao law and leave the countryThe process of all of this takes a very long time, and the senior couples, Hong Kong staff, and the Lao Government are all trying to make these things happen. Thank you for all the work you have done in trying to make this happenOnce the agreement (or the MOUis completed, the elders will come backBut not II dont think I will make it in timeIn fact, President Johnson isnt sure any of this group will make it backI will be serving the last 6 months of my mission in the Kingdom of Thailand

President Tiger

I want to thank all of you for your prayers and your fastingI dont know why the Lord is having this happenI dont know why everything seems to be falling throughThe day we found out we were going to be leaving, we called every Church member in our phone telling them how much we loved themTears were streaming down our faces as we testified to these members that the Lord has not forgotten themThe elders are not abandoning themwe have to go because of English visa stuff - not because obtaining the new church building isnt finished

To see these people in their hardest time has been the hardest thing for me on my missionI cannot stand seeing other people suffer, and I cannot do anything to help themAll I can tell them is to rely on their Savior, and that is what I need to do too

Lao will always be my homeI consider it my second homeThe members are my familyand I am going to miss them so much. They have taught me more about the Savior and sacrifice than anyone I have ever metThey deserve to see the fruits of their labors the day the church opensWhen that day comes, when 6 new elders are called back to Laos because the MOUs are complete, when we can finally worship together as a family united in Christ, oh how my soul will sing, HosannaHosannaHosanna!” It is my hope that I can be there when that day comes

This photo was taken at a Hmong cultural festival we visited with some of the Hmong members last Saturday. It is in an area north of Vientiane near where the new church building is supposed to be.

The Stevensons

I will visit Laos again with my family in JulyIf any members are reading this – I cant wait to see you in July! Keep going! You can do thisHang onThe Lord will bless you if you hang onHe is counting on his strong members here in Lao to make it until the church comesUntil then, we must LIFT each otherI promise you all that as you LIFT together, the Lord will fill you with the Holy Ghost, and you will be filled with hopeAs Alma 2637 says, Now [my dear Lao brothers and sisters], we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earthNow this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. God has not forgotten youYour elders have not forgotten youWe pray and fast for you every dayYou mean the world to meI love you so muchGod is mindful of youHang onHang onWe can do this if we do it TOGETHER.

ພຣະເຈ້ົາຈະໄຫ້ພອນພວກເຈົ້າ. ພຣະອົງຢາກໄຫ້ພວກເຈົ້າສູ້ໆ.ໄນເວລານີ້ແນ່ນອນວ່າພວກເຈົ້ານາດຈະຮູ້ສືກວ່າບໍ່ມີຄວາມຫວັງແຕ່ວ່າຄວາມຈີງແມ່ນວ່າພວກເຈົ້າຍັງມີພຣະເຈົ້າແລະຍັງມີສະມາຊີກທຸກໆຄົນ.ພຣະເຈົ້າຢາກໄຫ້ພວກເຮັາຊ່ວຍກັນແລະກັນ.ໃນເວລາທຸກຍ້າກເຮັາຕ້ອງມີສັດທາຄືເກົ່າແລະອະທິຖານຢ່າງຫນັກຄືເກົ່າ.ເຮັາເອລເດີຮັກພວກເຈົ່າຫລາຍຄິດຮອດຫລາຍ. ຢ່າລືມພຣະເຈົ້າ….ເພາະພຣະເຈົ້າບໍ່ລືມເຈົ້າ.

My prayers are with you always my dear brothers and sistersUntil we meet again,

ເອລເດີ ອັບຣາຮາມ ສະມິດ-ດິກສ
Elder Abraham Smith-Driggs

Love the Lord and Laugh, 
ອັບຣາຮາມ ສະມິດ-ດິກສ
Abraham Smith-Driggs  

Asia is so cute sometimes hahahahaha

Caught him sleepin' hahahah. Gotcha Bouw.

Mom comment: More photos in the series I call, "Sleeping Elders." These guys get so worn out.  Maybe I'll make a compilation of all the "sleeping elder" shots that Abraham has sent home over his 18 months in the mission field, including photos others have taken of him while he's been asleep;)

Last time with the deaf kids.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Opportunity to Choose

I have not had an opportunity to email these last 2 weeks…and as I opened up my email today, I was overwhelmed by many messages from people all around the world encouraging me and telling me that everything was going to be OK. Your messages bring tears to my eyes. I cannot express in words how much I appreciate your prayers and your faith. From the bottom of my heart - Thank you. 

This last week I had the opportunity of reflecting a lot about how much the Lord blesses us. Elder Saunders and I traveled with Elder and Sister Carter to a nearby province to donate water wells and bathrooms to 3 schools. 

These children were so excited to get these toilets and water. It meant so much to them. 
They threw big celebrations in our honor, fed us with the best food they had, danced for us, and smiled at us. 

There is a tradition that we participate in. It is a Buddhist ceremony called "Barci" where each person present blesses you and ties a white string around your wrist. The village people putting these strings around our wrists ranged in age from 16-70. 

As I looked into the faces of these farmers, I could see the gratitude. I could feel of their appreciation and their love for me and for DIC. All we gave them were a couple of fancy outhouses and a water tank, and it meant the world to them. 

My prayers and my spirit were revived this week as hundreds of these people looked into my eyes and said, "Thank you." It was an experience I will never forget. Our prayers get answered in strange ways. In this way, I could feel all of your prayers and your strength through participating in a Buddhist religious ceremony… who would've thought. :) You don't need to worry about me Mom. I am going to be OK. I just need to worry about the members. If you want to pray for anyone… pray for THEM. 

As different challenges and difficulties come into our lives, we are confronted with many choices. It is interesting to note that the central point in creating the Plan of Salvation was weighed on the ability to choose. The two major parties, Lucifer and Christ, duked it out in heaven just over this simple principle of choice. Boy… I take it for granted sometimes. Choosing to work hard. Choosing to be obedient. Choosing to take the right path (even if it will be the harder one). Choosing to be lazy. Choosing to be happy. Choosing to lift others. Choosing to eat PB&J or oatmeal. Choosing to start studies late. Choosing to forget yourself. The choices that we make have a large determining influence on our character. 

I’m going to get scientific for a bit here…stay with me for a sec...
Studies show that the way our brain cells work is that the more we think about certain things, the more we train our dendrites to “fire” certain ways and literally grow closer to each other. So the more we think about good things, our brain physically changes to accommodate that positive charge. Our bodies want to fire those emotions as quickly as they can, so our brain (being the smart cookie that it is) physically changes the length at which the electrical charge through the dendrites has to travel. The same thing applies with thoughts that we don't entertain as much…except that the dendrites or whatever it is that shoots off these electrical charges, actually shrink in size and grow farther apart because we don’t use them as much. If a quarterback is going to throw a football, we all know that it is going to be faster if he throws it to the receiver 15 yards away than throwing to a receiver 80 yards away. The same thing applies when sending emotions across your brain.  So if you keep thinking about good things regularly, your brain has an easier time shooting the good emotion impulse through your brain than the bad emotion - all because your body can process it faster because you have literally grown and trained your brain to "throw the 15 yard" emotion. So if we think more positively, over time, the positive emotions will be fired more quickly than the negative emotions.  If that last part didn't make sense… don't worry about it. I don't really understand it either hahahahaha. Science is my weakest subject honestly. #livingwithplantsneveragain

As children of our Heavenly Father, we have the opportunity to choose. We can choose right from wrong, better or best, Yankees or Red Sox, calculator watch or Rolex (calculator watch every time people - come on). With these choices, we literally change the makeup of our brain. No wonder it was such an incredible gift. The ability to change our character through making choices???? That is a risky gift for a dad to give to his kids. (And you thought buying an Xbox for Christmas was a big step!) 

Heavenly Father gave us the opportunity to choose because he loves us. We don't have a church. Yes OK… let's move on. Let's choose to be proactive in the missionary work we can do. We can't teach investigators. Yes OK…. Let's move on. We can choose to teach them over the phone or have them read church materials. We can't invite. Yes OK…. Let's move on. We can be disciples of Christ through loving each person we meet the way Christ would want… whether they know who he is or not. 

I testify that our choices make a difference. And sometimes, times get really tough. Yes they do… I am not denying that. Every day here in Laos right now is pretty brutal. As you could see from my last email, I get down sometimes. Yes OK… let's move on. Our choices make a difference. I choose faith, I choose charity, I choose the calculator watch, and I choose Christ. He will carry us home. He always has, and he always will. It is a great day in the kingdom. Let's move on! 

Love the Lord and Laugh, 
ອັບຣາຮາມ ສະມິດ-ດິກສ

Abraham Smith-Driggs  

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Yearnings of My Soul

Oh that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!.... I would do anything it takes. ( I pray for opportunities to share the gospel, I look for opportunities to serve, and yet I feel spiritually weak. Lord, what can I be doing wrong? 

I am slipping from the missionary that I once was. I haven't taught a single investigator lesson for over 9 weeks. As a missionary surrounded by others in our zone who have churches, investigators, people to work with….. it is hard to think of the members in Laos with none of that. I cry myself to sleep thinking of them. The members in Lao deserve more than this. The Lord knows when the time will come…. But when Lord? When will we begin again the work of salvation? All I can do is pray and fast. Pray… fast some more…. Cry some more…. More prayers…. Occasional lessons on the phone. 

Oh how I wish I could spread the Gospel to every person on the streets of Vientiane. They are my brothers and sisters. Oh how I wish I could ask God when his people in Laos would not suffer any longer. Oh that I were an angel, and could know the purposes of God's eternal plan. Oh that I were an angel, and could speak to the heart of my dear spirit family. Oh that I were an angel, that the reality of idleness could not shake me. Oh that I were an angel, always keeping my thoughts clean and abounding in virtue and good works. 

Brothers and Sisters, I am not an angel. I am weak. I slip up. I make big mistakes. I don't always deliver. At times it seems like everything is about to fall apart. And sometimes, it does. It is times like these that the Spirit prompts me to think about the yearnings of my soul. Where do I fit in all of this? How does my attitude affect others? Am I spiritually killing myself? 

My trial of faith may not come with any sort of logical or statistical analysis, or a car that takes off both of my legs, but maybe it is something that wounds the soul. It comes from discouragement. It comes from lost hope. It comes from factors concerning the soul. When the soul searches for its answer but comes up empty. When the yearnings of my soul can't turn into a reality…. I take a hit. 

I am getting hit hard right now. The members in Lao are getting hit even harder. The Church building cannot solve that problem, nor can any number of baptisms. The solution is not a number. It is not something we can touch. The yearnings of our souls can only be filled spiritually. That is the reason we continually read the scriptures. That is why we fast. That is why we go to church. That is why we pray. That is why we use the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is there because he wants to help you with the yearnings of your soul. If you need healing, you take that time to heal. If you need a day's rest, you take it. If you need to say sorry for yelling at your wife, you do it. The yearnings of our soul are not found by a stethoscope, but by a deep Godly instinct. 

Oh that I were an angel, and could visit each one of you to tell you how much I love you. Oh that I were an angel, and could help you understand the smallest sacrifice that these members in Laos go through each day. Their spirit carries mine every day. Even yesterday, 16 members from Laos woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning and traveled 6 hours to go to church in another country. The yearnings of their soul were made manifest by their action of faith. What faith and consecration these people have for the Lord. I am trying to be like them. I am trying to be like Jesus…. But ??? He is a long shot, so I try to stick with reachable goals. And if one day I can have half the faith as some of the disciples here do…… my joy will be full. OH that I were an angel, that I may see the blessings laid in store for the Lord's people in Laos, for how great shall be their joy in the kingdom of our Father. 

We are hanging in there. We will patiently wait. We want to worship the Father. We will do whatever it takes. So will the Lord. He has not forgotten his people in Laos. He will never give up on the people that he gave his life to save. You are worth it. I love you all. I pray for you every waking second of the day.