Monday, July 13, 2015

Real Mission Stories: Operation Rescue Captain Kirk

Well, to be honest, I was anticipating the last post to be the last post on this blog for a while. But I had a thought the other day that missionaries don't really talk about REAL stories. Of course we talk about real people and miracles, but often skim over the flops, the floods, or the small but significant things that happened on a daily basis either because we took them for granted or because we didn't want our families to get the wrong idea about what we were doing.

The white missionary handbook, known as the "white bible" in our mission, explains that letters home should be positive and not contain any negative or sensitive information about the area or people where we're serving. Which is a really good rule. But I'm going to talk about some of my own personal flops and since I'm not a missionary anymore, I can look back on some of the embarrassing moments with a better perspective, and those moments that once frustrated me are now hilarious.

I should add a disclaimer that serving a mission was probably the greatest decision I've ever made, and I love Thailand with all my heart.

But some crazy stuff went down, and some days all we could do was laugh at how badly things went.

This is Kirk. He's a teddy bear. I was that kid who had at least a dozen stuffed animals from my infancy all the way through college (and I still do) and while I couldn't bring all of them with me to Thailand, I knew I wanted to bring a small teddy bear. My mom bought him for me the day before I flew out and I fell in love. I named him Kirk because I grew up watching Star Trek and Captain James T Kirk was one of the most fearless characters I could think of, and the prospect of going on a mission was still pretty scary to me. I slept curled up with him every night of my mission.

Except for one night.

I was on a switchoff in Bangkhae, an area in Bangkok about two hours away from my home area in Pakkret. I went to Bangkhae and my companion stayed in Pakkret while we switched companions for 24 hours and worked in a different area. Pretty normal stuff. I packed my scriptures, study stuff, a change of clothes, and of course Kirk.

It was an incredible switchoff. I served with a brand-new missionary named Sister Belnap and she was just amazing. It blew my mind. She was already so good at the language and we had some miracle lessons. The Spirit was really powerful and I learned a lot. At the end of the day, my companion and her companion came back to switch back, and my companion and I took a taxi back to our area. It wasn't until we pulled into the parking lot of our apartment complex that I realized I had forgotten my overnight bag -- with my study materials, towel, and Kirk -- in Bangkhae two hours away.

We called the sisters there to let them know and realized that the bag was safely locked in the church there. I was almost convinced we should take a taxi and go back that night to pick it up but my companion pointed out that it was already past 10:30 and we needed to go to bed.

That was a hard night of sleep. By that point in the mission, I'd emotionally adopted Kirk and the idea that he was sitting in a bag in the dark in a church building made me feel horribly guilty, like I'd abandoned my own child or family member. The next morning, I felt sick. I couldn't focus on studies and I didn't think I was going to be able to work. I called my mission President to tell him about the situation. It was an awkward phone call. Basically, I had to admit that I was totally emotionally dependent on a stuffed animal. I wasn't sure what he would say, if he would let us go back and get it the following P day or make us wait for another opportunity. I could get by without all of those things, even my scriptures and Preach My Gospel (we had extras in the apartment). But his response surprised me.

President: "So Sister Z, you're telling me that you left Kirk, your Preach My Gospel and your scriptures in Bangkhae?"
Me: [apologetically] "Yeah..."
President: "Well Sister, you definitely need all three of those things. Why don't you go back and get them this morning during studies?"

My mission president is the coolest.

We took a boat there because it was cheaper than a taxi. My native-companion was a Bangkok native so weren't worried about not knowing where we were supposed to go, but as time went on (three hours later) we realized that we were getting lost. We spent a lot of time walking, wandering around, and asking people for directions. You can always tell how lost you are in Thailand by the way people laugh at you when you ask where a place is. So we hopped on a bus for another hour and finally passed the point where we would meet up with the other sisters.

I was reunited with Kirk and my study materials, and my companion and I, exhausted from our adventure, took a taxi back to our area. By the time it was all said and done, we spent the better part of that day getting my teddy bear back, but I can honestly say it was worth the peace of mind and my ability to focus on the work. I'm pretty sure neither my companion or the other sisters understood why it was so important to me to get my teddy bear back. I am so grateful that I had a mission president and a loving Heavenly Father who understood my personal needs better than anyone else. In a lot of ways, this experience built my testimony of our Heavenly Father, a perfect father who truly does know us better than we know ourselves.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

there and back again

Sometimes, things don't go the way you want them to.

For example: I am the first full-time missionary in my family. So when I sent in my mission papers, I thought I'd get a nice comfy mission call in North America. Maybe South America, although even that was a little out of my comfort zone. I figured if I got really, really lucky, I'd get placed in the Midwest and only be a few hours away from my family, where I'd still be able to keep in touch with everyone and I'd never get too homesick because, well, I'd be home.

Then I got a call to Thailand. It's over a year since I got the call and it still amazes me that the Lord called me there. It was completely mind-blowing. Getting to Thailand was a long, hard process and being in Thailand was even harder. But it was the best time of my life.

And now I'm back, several months earlier than I expected, on medical release.

Once I got my call and it started to settle in, I researched Thailand, started teaching myself Thai, and tried as best I could to prepare myself for what it would be like.

Unfortunately (but really fortunately), Thailand was so far away and so remote to me that I had absolutely no idea what the freeeak I was getting myself into. I just didn't know. And so once again, I had to put aside my perfectionistic, independent tendencies and just rely on God.

It was really hard. I had no idea what would happen to my family, or me, or really what I would be doing. I had the good fortune of meeting Emily Brown and Tessa Herrmann, who were going to Thailand with the same MTC entrance date as me (Tessa ended up as my first companion!). But even knowing them only confirmed that none of us actually knew what we were doing.

Soon enough, that fateful MTC entrance date came.

Apparently, most districts are small. Like, two to four companionships, usually not more than 10 people.

My MTC district had 14 total. And I love every single one of them like they're my own flesh and blood. We spent two months together, bugging the crap out of each other, strengthening each other, growing together...and trying to learn Thai along the way.

A week or so into the MTC, my dad went into surgery and I started really suffering. I couldn't focus, and I started to question whether I was really supposed to be there. That all changed with a priesthood blessing from one of the elders in my district. That blessing is seared in my memory, especially one phrase: "God has complete confidence in your ability to serve a complete 18-month mission."

Whoa. And that whole time I'd been thinking there was no way I could do any of it.

I don't believe it was an overnight change, but I found a lot of strength in that blessing and I started to adjust to the whole "being a missionary" thing. I started to get more comfortable in my role and have fun with it.

I owe so much to the sisters in my MTC group. Tessa, my first companion, was such a good example to me of patience and love and while we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things and we definitely had a rough patch that ended with us changing companions, I always knew how good of a missionary she was (and is). I adore her and am so grateful that despite our past issues, we got over it and are better friends than ever now! My second MTC companion, Brecklyn my soul sister. It was just kinda one of those companionships where we never had to say anything, we always knew how the other was feeling and how to help.

I could talk for forever about my MTC experience and the things I learned, but I think the most important lessons can be summed up in the missionaries in my district. I learned so much from them and several times I remember the impression that I was in the presence of spiritual giants when we were gathered in the classroom.

But it was a long two months, and we were more than excited to actually get to our destination and hit the ground running!

The flight was miserable, the jet-lag was death, and before we knew it we'd sat through our first transfer meeting and we were all getting shipped off to our new areas with our new companions. It didn't take me long to realize that I was one of the only sister missionaries not being trained in Bangkok. Instead, I was getting shipped off to Kalasin, a province in the middle of the Isaan, which for the most part is just rural towns and rice fields.

And my companion and I were going to be the other two missionaries in the province.

My trainer, Kara Ladle, was an incredible missionary. She was completely baller at the language, exactly obedient, and knew how to talk to everyone. Coming out of the MTC, I was amazing at the language for a greenie, loved the thai people, and was willing to do whatever was asked of me. Killer team, right? So why didn't we see a crapload of success and growth and happiness like I'd found in the Missionary Training Center?

I'm not inclined to blame the area, even though the area was tiny and brutally difficult as far as finding investigators went. We spent a lot of time standing in front of Big C (the thai equivalent of walmart pretty much) holding pictures of baptism, asking people if they wanted to "wash their sins." Buddhist people don't really have a concept of sin, so...nobody was really interested.

But despite the fact that we were lucky if we got 40 people to church on Sundays, I don't think that was the problem. I think the problem was taking place inside of me. I'm not really sure what changed or when, but by the time I got to Kalasin all I could feel was that I'd made a horrible mistake and that I was suddenly cut off from feeling the Spirit in teaching, studying, and praying.

It felt like hell. I cried for an hour every day during personal study and cried myself to sleep every night as soon as daily planning was finished at 9:30 (normally missionaries go to bed at 10:30). I felt absolutely awful all the time and while I felt I was doing everything to draw closer to God, I was completely blocked. I felt no love for anyone, myself included, and as time went on I learned to just swallow the awful feelings and not feel. Leaving the house every day filled me with dread. I closed off because I didn't know what was wrong and so, of course, nobody knew.

When it rains, it pours.

By some complete miracle I survived the first six weeks, all the worse for wear. We picked up another companion at the next transfer meeting and became a trio, even though I was still being trained. I remember wondering how the heck that was going to work.

The new companion was Brittany Lam, and she brought a whole different perspective to my mission experience. She was spunky and funny and goofed off and had fun and was happy, which is something that, trudging along in my own misery, I'd neglected to do. I learned a lot from Lam about that. She injected energy and spirit and it was just enough to get us going for another month.

It was during this period that I first started exhibiting symptoms of the health problems that eventually sent me home. It started as heat exhaustion and lack of appetite from working myself too hard and not allowing myself to relax or enjoy myself. I had this mentality that I needed to do everything and be perfect, because missionaries are superheroes, right?

I was working hard but I wasn't working smart.

By the time our mission president called to tell us that all three of us would leaving ("white-washing" in mission terminology), I don't think any of us were surprised. The branch was falling apart and we were all emotionally dead from the stress and drama of a lot of different things that had occurred. Despite the relief of leaving, I was also terrified to leave because Kalasin was all I'd ever known, and the idea of going anywhere else (specifically Bangkok) was not appealing. My occasional heat exhaustion had turned into consistent nervous appetite loss and even stomach pain.

And so all this led me to sitting on the floor of the hallway outside the transfer meeting, feeling completely broken in spirit and body. I didn't know how I was going to make it through that day, much less the next year. I told God that I could do six more weeks, and if something didn't change I was going to go home.

It wasn't meant to be a threat, just a desperate plea for something to give.

I got through that day on a fist bump.

I knew my limits, but God knew them even better. I found out that day I'd be serving in Pakkret (the same church building where we did transfers) and I'd be serving with Jessica Ellis. I remember our first night, after we'd said goodnight, I told her everything. That I was on my last six weeks and that I was miserable and wanted to go home. I wondered if I was making a mistake opening up to her like that, but she spent the next six weeks confirming that being open was the best decision I could have made.

She nursed me back to health. Not just physically bringing me to the hospital and making sure I took all the weird medicine the doctors were throwing at me, but she talked to me and she listened. We took breaks, we went at my pace and sometimes I felt frustrated because I knew I could be doing more, but she helped me realize that I was important. My health was important. In fact, I was just as important as the people we were teaching!

I started to fall in love with Thailand again! I didn't feel dread every single morning when I woke up for fear that I wasn't doing enough or working hard enough. I understood that I was doing my best without killing myself, and I actually started to feel better physically.

There was one P-day (preparation day) when some of the Elders in our area had the idea to go to Lopburi (an area a few hours north of Pakkret) to climb a mountain. We left the house at 6am and took a van for a few hours to our destination.

The mountain we hiked...I wish I remembered the name of it because it had such a profound impact on me. 4000 steps carved in the side of the mountain led to the top, where there was a small temple. Monks had made the trek for decades, a pilgrimage that helped solidify their dedication to their work.

Apparently monks are in much better shape than I was. I remember being around 1,000 steps in and deciding I was done. I apologized to my companion (we'd already been going slower than everyone else) and sat down on a step and just looked down the mountain. It wasn't the top, but it was nice enough. I wasn't going to beat myself up over not getting there.

My companion waited a few minutes with me and then she started to push. "Just a little bit more," or "let's just get to the next rest stop." And so slowly, we continued. The steps got steeper, and as we got higher I was really not doing well. My lungs hurt and the repetitive motion of climbing steps was boring and didn't seem to be making much of a difference in climbing the mountain.

The other missionaries were crazy supportive, too. Elders slowed down to stay with us, kept us joking and laughing, brought us water and the Thai equivalent of Gatorade. I remember wondering why it was so important that I got to the top of that mountain.

But I made it. I was the last one up, and I was out of breath, embarrassed, and exhausted, but then we had a devotional on the top of the mountain that changed my focus on the mission.

Most of our zone at the top of the mountain

It was about the temple. Our zone leaders led a discussion and taught us about the temple. About why it mattered. I think I always knew, but that devotional brought out a lot of understanding that I hadn't consciously processed before. These people needed a temple. It wasn't a luxury. It was a necessity. These Saints here in Thailand needed the blessings, the peace and the ordinances in the temple like nothing else. We all knew members or families in Thailand who'd died without an opportunity to go to the temple. And that day I caught the vision. What I was supposed to be doing in Thailand. I wasn't just standing outside or walking around asking people to wash their sins or go to a Christian church, I was helping to build a temple.

It's only now that I get why it was so important for me to get to the top of that mountain.

Actually, that mountain has become a metaphor for the mission in countless ways. I talk about that day all the time because it had such an impact on me. After that, I started to really catch the vision, the fire, the why of the work we were doing.

Which became my inflection point.

I was so sad to be separated from Sister Ellis. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas parties together, survived a heckuva lot of crazy Sundays taking care of three wards, and she taught me so much about valuing myself and being myself. I realized that God called me to serve the mission. And I figured out how to work hard and work smart.

I figured out that this is supposed to be a joyful work!

I didn't know how things could keep getting better after having a companion like Jessica Ellis. But my next companion did just that. Sister Yanisa Mansiriphaiboon (I'm so proud that I can say and spell her name without thinking about it) and I actually went on a switchoff in my first area. We were companions for a day, and ever since then, I'd always thought it'd be awesome to be companions with her, because we were so alike, loved to have fun, and she was an incredible teacher.

But I never thought it'd actually happen. Dreams do come true, folks. I'm a witness.

Yanisa is a convert of two years, but you'd never guess that from the way she understands and teaches the gospel. I can't remember how many times I just sat there in lessons, listening to her teach and explain things better than I could have explained them in english! My testimony and understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ grew tremendously when I was serving with her.

It's worth mentioning that my health problems continued for the first bit of our time together. I had a medical procedure and after that and trying countless drugs and consultations, I was told that the root of the medical problem was simple stress from the lifestyle I was living. In the opinions of the doctors, I needed to go home, take a break from the lifestyle, go back to "normal" life.

But I couldn't. I felt like I had to stay, and Yanisa was with me every step of the way. With her relaxed approach to everything, she helped me eliminate a lot of the things that were stressing me out and, eventually, get me out of a negative physical cycle. I started feeling better and being able to work at the level that I wanted to.

We could do anything together, even contacting long hours in the hot sun. We never got bored, and we never got frustrated with each other. Okay, I can recall maybe three times in our three months of being companions when I actually got frustrated with her, and they were all for dumb reasons that were actually my fault. When the hour of frustration had passed, I wanted nothing more than to make up and spend more time (goofing off) with her.

We served together for two transfers. I worried at first that I would tire of her or get more frustrated but we only grew closer and as my thai improved, our conversations began to increase in length and topic and complexity. She is without a doubt one of my best friends and I can't imagine my life not knowing her. If that was the only reason I was sent to Thailand, it still would have been completely worth it.

In every way, I was thriving. I started getting answers to prayer easier and faster and feeling the Spirit stronger. I was at my peak; Yanisa and I could easily cover the challenge of working in three units (a thai ward, thai branch and international ward) and our workload was insane but we managed to do it every week. Around this time I started saying the "superman prayer," which goes a little like this:

Heavenly Father,
There is no freaking way I can do everything that's being asked of me right now.
But you can do this through me.
I know I'm not superman, but please qualify me to do what you need me to do today.

And so forth. And it worked! Every time I said a prayer like that, I found my capacities expanded, my abilities increased, and everything that needed to get done, was done. Maybe that wasn't everything, but it was always enough.

But all things must come to an end, and our almost four months of perfect balance ended when I got a call saying that I would be training the next transfer.

I'd always wanted to train. It was a dream of mine ever since I arrived in Thailand, though I'm not really sure why. Over time, I understood that training was less about when I was ready and more about when "my girl" came. When I got the training call, I felt unsure and even wrong. As much as I wanted to train, I wanted to do it for the right person, the person I was supposed to train.

My fears dissipated when our names were announced together at the transfer meeting. Sister Tara-Ann Teriipaia. I quickly discovered that we were nothing alike, which surprised me since my trainer and I were very alike. Sister Teriipaia was energetic and rambunctious! I really needed her energy and persistent optimism.

I'm not sure when it happened, but that transfer I put a lot on my plate and I started paying the price for it physically, mentally and emotionally, just like I had before. I was clocking out before we even left the house every day. I loved the area and the work but I was getting worked up about nothing and everything started to feel wrong. I tried so many things. We switched up studies, tried new routes, switchoffs, and endless conversations about the problem. It wasn't going away.

That's when my mission president started talking to me about going home. I violently rejected the idea; it simply wasn't an option to me. I didn't sign up for anything less than an 18-month deal. To me, anything less was failure. I'd rather die than go home early.

And so I pushed on, believing that, along with all of my other trials and ailments on the mission, it would go away through more work and dedication. There was one day where I had a fever of at least 39.5 Celsius (around 103 Fahrenheit). I was delirious. And I spent the rest of that week in bed. I was losing weight, never ate, perpetually in pain of some kind, and every day I felt more and more dead inside. Sometimes I'd even think about just walking into the middle of the street and letting it be over because it was so hot and I just had nothing left to give.

And somehow, I refused to admit what was happening to me. I was working myself to death.

Two weeks before transfers, I got a call from my Mission President. The call ended something like this.

Prez: "Well Sister Zoller, if you're going home I'd like to send you home with the missionaries going home next week. I'll let you think about the decision tonight and you can get back to me tomorrow morning."

It was already after 10pm, and missionaries are supposed to be in bed by 10:30. I don't think I went to sleep for a few hours that night. I was so torn up. On the one hand, I thought going home would be healthy -- to be able to rest from my labors and regenerate. But then again, I'd told myself I was only going to make the round trip to Thailand and back once on my mission. And this isn't what I'd signed up for! I was convinced that my Heavenly Father was just looking down at me waiting for me to make the right choice, and that choice was to stay. After all, the mission wasn't about me, and I'd be making a mistake if I did what benefited me the most, even though my companion and mission president both counselled me to follow that course.

So I chose to stay. I was very resolute about it and felt committed as ever. I was going to make it work. Somehow. "I'm staying, President." And click, I hung up the phone.

And then I was seized by a horrible feeling. It felt like death. I felt like I'd just signed away my life. But this is what I wanted! I needed to stay. So I fought that awful feeling, for almost six hours. And that whole day I couldn't focus, I couldn't invite, and I couldn't teach.

I knew I was making the wrong decision. It was the hardest phone call I've ever made, which is saying a lot because making phone calls has always been a source of anxiety in my life. I had to work myself up to doing it for somewhere in the ballpark of 10 agonizing minutes. But I knew I couldn't keep fighting God. My mission president knew, too. I think that's why he'd gently urged me to consider going home in the first place.

When I hung up the phone, I still felt that pit in my stomach, but I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do.

A week before transfers I moved to the office with all my stuff and did miscellaneous office tasks and finalizing logistics. I loved that week. I saw so many missionaries and was the recipient of so many acts of generosity and kindness. I will never forget that week.

On my last P-day, I took a field trip with the senior couples to the Kanchanaburi Province, which includes among other things the site of the Bridge Over the River Khwae. For those of you who don't know what that was or haven't seen the movie by that title, it was a Japanese prisoner torture camp during World War II for British, Australian, American and Dutch prisoners. We went to a museum and war cemetery, among other places, and it was overall pretty eye-opening and sobering. At the cemetery, we walked among rows upon rows of graves of officers who died in the camp, ranging in age from 22 to 47. I saw a few graves with the following inscription on them:

"Greater love hath no man that he lay down his life."

Isn't that what I was doing? I was willing to give my life to this work, and in some ways, dying seemed like a better option than going home. I was miserable. I was already homesick for Thailand and I took in every sight and sound and 7/11 snack like it was my last. The Lord knew I had given everything to the mission and there was a growing spot of peace in my heart where the heartbreak of leaving had been. That scripture on the grave made me begin to understand.

I got to spend another day at the office (and out of the office) with Rina Grover and Brynne Woodbury (in the picture), one of my many heroes on the mission. I tried not to tell people I was going home, but when they inevitably found out, they only responded with genuine love and concern. I still felt so ashamed of myself. Why couldn't I just serve for 18 months? What was wrong with me?

left to right: Elder Webb (my "son"), Elder Batey (my last district leader), me, and Sister T (my "daughter")
That transfer meeting was hard. That last week is all a blur but I remember specific moments in slow motion. I remember the last time I sang a closing song to a meeting in Thai, I remember saying goodbye to Brecklyn Nethercott in the van on my way out, I remember the airport at 4am, I remember sitting on the plane just terrified of leaving a place I'd once been terrified to go to.

my last night in Bangkok

As it turns out, there's nothing wrong with me. I served a complete mission in God's eyes. I just couldn't see it. With time, and some really supportive, convincing friends, I've started to see things for how they really are. An 18-24 month mission is relative. What really matters is what happens after it.

God allowed me to come home for a lot of reasons, probably. I know one of them is that He cares about me the same way he cares about my investigators and the members that I was giving everything for in the mission field. And I think that's pretty cool.

The mission is the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's still hard to think about it sometimes, but every time I do I always get this feeling that I did was I was supposed to. My full-time mission ended. But I realized about six months into my service that if you do the mission right, it never really ends. It leads to a life of consecrated service to the Lord. It's more than putting on a name-tag every day and adhering to a bunch of rules in a little white handbook. It's about the way you wake up every morning and approach every day. It's about the way you interact with people, from your family to random people on the street.

Sometimes, things don't turn out the way you want them to. They almost always turn out better. And it can only go up from here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Pigs are flying, the sea is parted, north is south....there's gonna be a temple in Thailand!

WELL pretty much everything I was gonna say for this week is overshadowed by the fact that last night (in our time) President Monson announced a temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

That's what we've been working for! Literally all I've been doing is driving members crazy testifying that the temple is coming. I was just thinking last night about the time we went to a mountain in Lopburi for a zone devotional and I caught the vision. I understood how much the members need a temple, the blessings from that, etc. and so I've been promising members that the temple is coming, it's so close, we're getting ready for it...

But even I thought it'd be after I went home before they announced it.

So what does this temple announcement change? Well, it doesn't really change anything. We have a work to do, and that won't change. We knew a temple was coming, that it was a matter of "when" not "if."

A temple in Bangkok, Thailand, will change the face of Southeast Asia. Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam...all the way to India. And whether or not we're ready we're ready to go now because the prophet said! God's timetable is almost never's the greatest thing ever.

So for the week...I met the princess of Thailand, had a fever of 103 degrees, and went on two switchoffs. Busy week. I've never had physical problems really before the mission but pretty much since getting here it's been a lot of awful colds and weird problems. It's nothing if not humbling. And it gets hotter every day. I don't want to know how hot it actually is because I think I'd probably never go outside again if I actually knew what I was going out into.

This week we were roped into a government exhibition at a hotel in our area where we were representatives of the church at a booth for three days while government officials (including the princess) walked by and asked questions about the Church's humanitarian efforts around the world and in Thailand. Definitely not something I thought I'd be doing when I was called to serve in the Thailand Bangkok Mission!

Hope everyone is having a better week than we have been...we get general conference and Songkhran (the once-a-year water festival) next week, so we just gotta make it until then! And then right after that is transfers and I already know I'm leaving the area's just a countdown.
Love you all,

1. Feeding the dogs outside our house. This one is named Reynalda, she's super friendly and I've been here so long that when I got here she was a tiny puppy.

2. Me and Sister K and Sister W, my two favorite Laotians after church yesterday!

Monday, March 30, 2015

just another [week]

Me, Guitar and Amanda, just a few more people in my family here.

Ahhh, this week. Felt like it was many weeks long. Time on the mission, it's like this sometimes. On Monday we watched Meet the Mormons in an anxiously-anticipated missionary family home evening. It was a great movie and the entertainment of President Senior embarrassing and making fun of Elders never gets old. We were struck by how similar Nepal is to many places in Thailand, so if you see that movie you have just a teeny idea of what this country is like.

Then conference! Always fun, even if I got unexpectedly called as the chorister. I don't like getting called to do public things like that, know, you learn to do it and smile. Or just make faces at your elders in the back row the whole time. At zone conference, we also learned about the "Because He Lives" media initiative from the Church (at I loved seeing all the missionaries I've grown to love and feeling that unity in our purpose.

Me and Sister Hatch after doing all the music for zone conference!

The rest of the week was a blur of thunderstorms and referrals and families. Wednesday night we waded through a pouring rain and a foot of flood waters to get home after a freak thunderstorm and flash flood. Thursday we taught a lesson to an investigator who's convinced she already been baptized in this church (but she hasn't. for sure. we checked). Saturday we cleaned the church, helped a tri-ward youth activity and accidentally offended our investigators and some members. The church is the same all around the world, and thai members are truly amazing, but still human. We all are. If this were any church but God's, it would have come crashing down back in the 1800s when Joseph Smith died. But this really is the Church of Jesus Christ. He already has a plan for Thailand's temple, He already knows who He's preparing to join His Church. We just have to work and have faith that God's got it all under control.

Lots of investigators, now we're just struggling with the progression! Ahh, the struggle to balance. Life is good.
Sister Z.
Cleaning the font this week with members, featuring dead centipedes and cockroaches.

The Elders struggle with technology while we sit on the couch eating snacks from 7/11.

Monday, March 23, 2015

If you can't say something nice... ไม่ต้องพูดอะไรเลย....

[Lots of pics this week, all at the end.]

Well the reason there wasn't an email last week is because of something I learned as a child from my mom and from watching the movie Bambi an excessive number of times: "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

But thank goodness I have a lot of good things to say about this week!

Well, actually, it was a really hard week. The big thing that makes every single day a battle is the temperature. it's like in the upper 30s centigrade, which is something that I didn't think I could handle physically. I'm still alive and hydrated, but I think I'm going crazy a little bit. Or a lot. I can't remember what snow feels like....

Even Africa apparently doesn't get this hot. sigh.

And if this weren't enough, we had almost no investigators up until the last week. Which means lots of contacting in the hot weather. But the thing is, thai people are smart, and they don't go outside when it's hot. So we're standing outside, contacting...and no one is outside.


Thank goodness there's a Dairy Queen around every corner. Soft-serve ice cream is my life.

BUT there are so many things going right around here, too. And most of them have to do with Laos. Since I got here, I've taught a total of 11 Laotian investigators, but only two of them have currently been baptized. Why so many investigators? Because there's something about the Laotian people...when they find the gospel, all they want to do is share it. With their spouses, their siblings, parents, cousins, neighbors...and that's how I've taught 11 Laotians. Every single one of them was a referral of some kind. And right now we're teaching three of the cutest people with their cousin, who just joined the church last month, Sister W. We met with Sister W this week by herself to review some of the lessons and, as usual, she ended up teaching us. She (and her family here) work CRAZY schedules and two jobs. Typically, afternoons are their times to sleep, which is kind of inconvenient because our church meeting starts at 1pm. And if that weren't enough, Sister W has two kids under the age of 3 who are living in Laos, away from her and her husband, and she doesn't get to call/skype them or see them hardly ever but she stays here to provide for them. Talk about selfless sacrifice!

And then on Thursday night when we were teaching her, she said, "you know, it's hard to go to church on Sundays because it's our only day off and we only get to sleep for a few hours before we go back to work...but really, it's a commandment from God so it's a blessing, and even if I have to go without sleep every Sunday, it's worth it."

I cried. Just started tearing up in the middle of the lesson and she and my companion definitely wondered what was wrong with me. I have not seen faith like this anywhere before...there is something special about the people of Laos. They are humble and faithful and willing to sacrifice whatever they need to for their families, and now for God. They're the ones teaching us.

If we could all just be a little bit more like Sister W...this world would be a little more like heaven.

And if this weren't awesome enough, we woke up at 330am on Sunday morning to a THUNDERSTORM because our power was out and it was unbearably hot in our apartment. Desperate, we went outside...and it was COLD. Okay, so I'm guessing it was probably around 68 fahrenheit....but it was COLD. Legitimately cold. And through my unconscious half-awake state of mind and the fact that I could barely keep my eyes open, I recognized that it was a miracle that in the middle of the hot season, God sent me my favorite kind of weather, a cold thunderstorm. Yeah, God knows us. He knows our favorite food and weather and our limits and the thoughts and desires of our hearts.

Thank goodness we always have someone who gets us perfectly!

Sister Z.

1. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand and features many old ruins, temples, and a "floating market" on a river.

2. Me and Sister Black! Not my companion, but one of my best friends in this mission.

3. We basically spent the whole day taking pictures.

4. It's so hot that we can stick inviting cards to our foreheads. As if Mormons weren't weird enough...

5. Saw Sister Brown and Sister Herrmann from my MTC group this week when we took our companions to do work permits! Turns out we're all doing great, working hard, and doing incredible things in our areas! I feel so blessed to call these missionaries my sisters.

6. A bunch of people from the Pakkret branch who have become my family in the last five months here.

7. Not the most flattering picture of me, but I thought this just summed up our district/life so well. The woman getting baptized is the wife of a recent convert (he's the one who baptized her) and it was just the CUTEST thing because this work is ALLL about FAMILIES! And then there's me and Sister T being crazy off to the side. Our motto is, "if we're not having fun every day, we're doing something wrong." And this is a flipping joyful work!

Monday, March 9, 2015

"I got bronchitis -- Ain't nobody got time for that!"

1. Last P-day we went to a zoo with our favorite members!

2. I saw a cow. I couldn't control myself.

3. Me and Sister Phraew. She's like my mom here.

4. Last picture with Sister Yanisa. I loooove her to death for forever :)

5. Me and Sister T!

6. This monkey accurately sums up how exhausted we all feel after transfer meeting.

[Transfer videos added at end of post.]

When it rains, it pours. Everything always happens at once around here. Those of you who saw our transfer video already know that...I'm TRAINING! A new missionary! Why President decided to trust me with that is...very humbling. But it feels right. Well, that's not true. It felt very wrong and overwhelming for the first 24 hours from the moment I got the call until the moment President Senior announced our names together and I turned around to see her...and then I knew I was doing exactly what I was supposed to. Everything felt right. Sometimes we get blessed with that confirmation right away.

Her name is Sister Terriipaia and she is a BABE. From Hawaii. This is gonna be a chill transfer for sure. She is so outgoing and confident and will talk to ANYONE. The members already love her, and I do too! She is so humble in accepting help...something I was not good at as a greenie and something I still need to work on. She is an example to me of complete faith and trust in the Lord. I feel so privileged to be her first companion in the field.

The next day we started out normal and were going to do our first day of studies together...but then I woke up and my voice was GONE. Anything above a hoarse whisper caused me to go into an insane coughing fit. So instead of studying in the morning we took a field trip to the Bangkok Hospital, which happens to be an hour away and one of the best hospitals in the world, to figure out what was wrong. I've had a cold for the last three weeks but it turns out that because I'm not getting better it's just been getting worse, different bacterial infections and probably a viral one too. It's bronchitis! The doctor said to sleep for about three days to make sure my body has time to heal...but three days in mission time is eternity! So I said okay (but in my mind, I said something like "fat chance!"), they gave me a bunch of drugs, and we went back home to sleep for three hours until we had to go to a church activity. The next few days were rough, and it's still kinda a challenge to sleep with all the random coughing fits, but we've been doing our best putting in work here. Thank goodness God doesn't ask us to be perfect right away, but accepts our meager best efforts and makes up the difference.

Not having a voice as a missionary is rough. Possibly the worst thing that can happen to you as a missionary. Someone once said, "If you want to punch Satan in the mouth, open your mouth and PREACH." And, well, you can't really preach if your vocal cords aren't working. It was pretty humbling and also pretty sucky. It's only today, three days later, that my voice is finally functioning at an almost-normal level. And I'm ready to go and preach repentance unto every freaking nation if my voice will carry that far!

I love our missionary purpose, as found in the beginning of Preach My Gospel: "Invite others to come unto Christ..." We get to do that every day here through service, teaching, inviting, baptizing, finding....I just can't get over how cool that is. Being a missionary is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I will never be able to overstate the influence it has had on me and will continue to have on me for my whole life.

Transfers were dramatic as always...I found out that Elder Hinkson from my MTC district is off to MYANMAR which means he won't be coming back to Thailand until he finishes his mission. I will miss him so much! But he will do miracles in Myannmar. I'm so proud. And Elder Curtis, Sister Herrmann, and Sister Brown from my district are training! And Elder Martindale, Sister Hatch and Sister Ong from my Nong-thai group (the district that came in the MTC after us) are also training! Sick!

We're on fire! Keep on keepin' on :)
Sister Z

[Transfer videos! The first spends a lot of time following the newly-arrived missionaries -- so fun! Look at 11:28 for when Sister Zoller gets to first meet her new can hear President Senior's clue for who Sister Teriipaia's trainer will be: "Do you like cheese?" Yep, that's our Wisconsin girl!]

[This is more of the transfer meeting. Sister Zoller is in the front row. The "red couch" is reserved for missionaries going home. Don't miss when the new companionships are named, starting at about 4:05 until the end -- they know how to embrace change! You have to love their enthusiasm for life!! ]

Monday, March 2, 2015

Strike it up (nobody's gonna stop my sound)

1. I love this girl so much. So bummed that we won't be staying together! These last two transfers have been so good. So good.

2. Cleaning the baptismal font. One of my favorite things to do!

Transfer week! Don't yet know who will be moving in our district, but we're about 90% sure Sister Yanisa is leaving. I would be very surprised if she stayed. But anything is possible!

Sometimes when you do the right thing, you feel like you're standing alone. Being a missionary can feel surprisingly lonely at times...but every time I feel like that I just have to turn to the Savior in prayer. He is ALWAYS there, and He ALWAYS understands.

Heavenly Father is just the best. He knows me (and you and each of us) so well -- our real needs, the desires of our hearts. and he can bless us with love for others and the ability to carry on. And he can do more than carry us...he can make us FLY.

There are SO MANY good investigators right now. One dude named D...he's buddhist. We met him sitting outside the church as Sister Yanisa and I were about to go out. When we asked him why he was sitting there, he said he'd seen our church building a few times but that day the gate was open and he felt like going in. So we taught him...and he's so golden. He loves the idea that he can talk to his Heavenly Father and ask for help with anything. He prays like a BOSS. It's a conversation when he prays. Like "Heavenly Father, I don't really know why I have this desire to come to church. I don't know why I feel good or why I came here. But I don't really want to change those desires. Help me to figure stuff out." I want to cry when he prays he's so เก่ง (good/skilled/incredible). I wish we would all pray like that more often.

Well I'm out of time for today...I love you all!
Sister Z.

Monday, February 23, 2015


1. Sister Yanisa and I know how important prayer is. Sometimes we pray while thai squatting.

2. Me and Gato, the six-year-old son of our favorite family.

So this week I've started doing this thing called the Superman Prayer. It's where I tell Heavenly Father that I'm not superman but I need to be able to do superhuman things on any given day. And man does Heavenly Father just qualify me beyond anything I can do on my own! Especially this week, Yanisa and I have both been sick. And my voice was in and out on Saturday and Sunday. How can you be a "challenging and testifying missionary" if you can't open your mouth and preach? Use sign language?

Well, I don't know thai sign language, and Heavenly Father doesn't need me to learn that right now, so he provided a way and opened my mouth/vocal cords so I could say and do everything I needed to do despite feeling pretty crappy all week. He always provides a way when we trust Him. And our weaknesses are just a really awesome opportunity to take the Lord's hand and start walking on water.

This week was as great as every other week here. We somehow managed to get lost in our area (I've been here for four months, Sister Yanisa for three and se's a native to Bangkok), we had a lesson with our Laotian investigators and brought a Laotian Elder to help us teach (through speakerphone haha). We learned that one of our investigators hasn't really been getting anything we've been teaching him and so we need to start over and teach him everything even though we've already taught him a lot...but instead of getting mad, Sister Yanisa and I felt grateful that we finally figured out why he wasn't progressing. It was like a breath of fresh air. A new start.

And it poured rain a few times. No faster or better way to make my day than to make it rain. Heavenly Father knows me so well!

When one of our investigators, Sister W, got baptized this weekend, she got up and bore her testimony after. Most people stumble through their first testimony because they're just overwhelmed from the day or they don't know how to yet, but Sister W just said that she was grateful to her Heavenly Father for the opportunity to turn a new leaf and expressed her desires to remain steadfast. I almost cried. Proud tears. I'm so proud. And I didn't even do anything to help teach her! She flipping taught herself. All of it. One time a week or two ago we were talking about a concept in the gospel and she just burst into tears. At first I was worried something was wrong, but it quickly became apparent that she was just feeling the Spirit really, really strongly. After that, she progressed so quickly! God has prepared the hearts of His children here and is leading us to them (or them to us!).

3. Baptism! Sister W, a laotian sister, and all the people who have helped teach her/fellowship her. I've never seen anyone make friends in the church as quickly and easily as Sister W. She is so cute!

I feel really repetitive, but this is truly the greatest work we can be involved in. I love being a missionary so much, especially here in this choice corner of the world. Helping people enter the waters of baptism is such a special privilege. I love life!
I love you all!
Sister Z.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Oh I know, I'm no Superman...

1. Me and Sister Yanisa helping out at the Valentine's day activity here.

2. Had lunch with Sister Lam in Asoke this week! Comp reunion!

Every once in a while I take a step back and look at the work we're doing here, and it amazes me what we're doing. There's not a day that goes by that I don't thank my Heavenly Father for the support and strength I receive on a daily, hourly basis, because if I didn't have His help I swear I would be crushed from the pressure of all the things I have to do.

Sometimes my life feels like an episode of Scrubs and I'm JD, the awkward white kid who usually has no idea what they're doing, and Sister Yanisa is Turk, the best friend who has style and is in with all the members and the way to do missionary work. Seriously, I'm learning so much from her about how to love and serve completely. We'll be waiting for ten minutes for something and Yanisa will say "let's go clean the bathrooms!" and we'll spend ten minutes doing something productive. Never a dull moment here! The members here just love both of us, always giving us free food and snacks and making us fat and bringing us their friends and family members...and telling us not to move. We've tried to explain that it's not our call, but...with all the members here praying for us to not move, maybe we'll just be here together for longer. I wouldn't mind :)

The advantage of being with your companion for more than one transfer is you stop needing to coordinate everything and you just go and do what needs to be done. We are so unified in our efforts to help our recent converts, less actives, and investigators...we get so much done and it's like a weird equation where 1+1=over 9000 because the work we put in should not equal the results and miracles we're seeing here. The x factor in missionary work is always love, when it's there, we see our efforts multiplied.

We had an activity at church this week that we did instead of regular scripture was a temple/family history fireside! We asked different people in the wards to present on the importance of temple ordinances and family history work. We even got everyone there to start doing their own family tree sheet and now we're working with our family history consultants here to get everyone FamilySearch accounts. We didn't think we'd have many people there...but we had 28 total (not including missionaries), half of whom were recent converts and two of whom were investigators who were family members! It was an amazing, spiritual activity and I'm so grateful it was such a big hit. It made an impact on me and I hope it made as strong of an impact on the members. Preparing for the temple starts with us!

We also spent a lot of time this week helping members set up for the stake Valentine's activity, a youth dinner and YSA dance! The members in the wards here are so creative and we had a lot of fun building a 4 meter replica Eiffel Tower Arc de Triomphe together. We stuck around long enough to see the final product with lights and balloons...these members know how to put on a party! I'm going on four months here and I've just loved every second, I could be here for the rest of my mission if I needed to because this area is just so big and the longer I'm here the more I fall in love with the members. We're family.

3. The Arc de Triomphe replica

God's plan is perfect. It's just all about families and love and there isn't a rule or commandment that we've been given that won't improve the quality of our lives and bring us happiness, TRUE happiness, that lasts beyond this life.

I love you all!
Sister Z.