"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. " --- John 8:10

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Lights

Hello all. It's been a while since I've written this type of email. I'm not sure how much everyone has been hearing, but I haven't intended to write anything for the masses in months. Don't know how I'm going to feel about it next week, but I figured that there's probably some sort of eternal retribution for missionaries that don't write well the week of Christmas, so here's to avoiding that.

I'm currently working in the strangest area of the mission: Dongducheon. It's a small little city that only really exists to support the American military bases in the area the largest of which are Camps Casey and Hovey. I'm working in an English speaking branch teaching primarily soldiers and African factory workers.

They're pretty interesting. Very different from Koreans. Since I got here, we've actually been having a drop party at the end of every weekly planning. There were well over 70 names on our board when I got here and I've never been able to meet the vast majority of them. Not always their fault. Korean labor laws are a bit looser than American ones so most of the people who come to work the factories work over 13 hours a day and are in an out of work frequently, which makes it hard to meet even though the majority of them are very religious and a bit more open than most. After a month or two of trimming the fat, we have identified/found the people that are actually willing to keep commitments, come to church and all the rest, and three of those people (M___, J____, and R____) are on track to be baptised on the 4th of January, God willing.

M____ is as gold as they get. After meeting him once and challenging him to read the first lesson pamphlet, he came to church, then when we met him again he had read the pamphlet, had questions, went to mormon.org, cleared up his concerns, watched the Joseph Smith movie, then felt like he needed to pray about it and did, resulting in him being told in a dream that it was true.

Right? That happens?

He's already being a good fellowshipper, reaching out to friends and family and helping love and invite them into the church. Those friends include R___ and J___.

J___ is great. Really smart guy, comes to church on his own really well, but we have a lot of trouble meeting him because of his work schedule. We got permission to stay out later to meet him, but still haven't been able to meet him since we set his baptismal date. The only two things blocking him from baptism are us being able to teach him everything fast enough and a concern about whether he will stay strong in the church after returning to Nigeria.

R___ is fun. He has a lot of friends in the ward fellowshipping him and meets with us pretty well. He has some trouble understanding sometimes so the teaching is slower, but he's on track for the date as well.

This last week we met a couple of interesting people. J2___ is from Philadelphia and has been living in Korea as an English teacher for six years, so his Korean is pretty good. Probably comparable with mine. He doesn't attend church, but is really religious. He's studied the crap out of his Bible and expanded to the apocrypha and the Book of Mormon, as well as, I believe, the Koran. However he's got a couple of interesting, but incredibly strong beliefs. One of them, which is essentially the only thing we have talked about so far, is that Jesus of Nazareth was black and that he can prove it from the Bible.

Now, I don't really care. Honestly, that would make Jesus just that much more cool to me. The problem comes from his strong objections to our pictures of Christ as a white guy. My belief is that Jesus probably looked like most Jews at the time, which in my head is fairly tan. But. Alas. We are going to talk doctrine next time, but it seems like even if he can accept all of the doctrine, he still isn't likely to get baptized over this. Really interesting lesson though.

The other guy is a recently inactive friend of Elder C's from back home. Looks like he's kind of fallen off the map since they lost contact. He's in a really dark place. Even I was able to discern a really dark presence coming from him. It really got to Elder C, but it felt more familiar to me. If there is a reason for the two of us working together it is because we are maybe the two people in the mission who are best equipped to help him. There are too many signs of intervention to believe that he's here and so are we by chance and that we ran into him just days after Elder C prayed to find him. I mean, just think of how many other places the army could have sent him.

Well, this week in Church was our Christmas program. I sang twice. First with the missionaries singing With Wondering Awe and then with the Elder's quorum slaughtering While Shepherds Watched their Flocks. I'm starting to really enjoy singing. The hymns are a lot funner when you are putting together the Bass or Tenor part instead of not being able to hit the melody.

President Peden started his remarks by talking about commercial vs real Christmas. This wasn't the case last Christmas, but I was actually kind of shocked by being reminded that there was a commercial version. There are a lot of things that are difficult about missionary work, but it is really easy to be focused on Christ. Honestly, I, being imperfect, spend a lot of time while we are walking around (low population density) talking about non-churchy things and I may or may not have broken when a member pulled up the new Star Wars trailer on his phone (ok, I did, and it was EPIC!! Already talked with President and he didn't even care!!), but all of that aside (no really, let's let it go), just because of who I am and the role I'm playing now Christ is always a huge factor in everything that I do.

And why shouldn't he be? Is there anyone or anything more important in this world? People talk about family, and family is awesome, but Christmas would continue to go on, the world would continue to go on without my family. Presents, trees, and wrapping paper are all hollow and empty unless we choose to turn on the lights.

That actually is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. The lights. We risk life and limb to hang up these colored lights all over our house throw them on and Christmas time becomes, quite literally, less dark. A couple of musings on Christmas lights:

1. There is a reason that we put our lights on the outside of our house. One of the great things about light is that you never run out when you share it. In fact, if you want to make things brighter, you should try to find things to shine your light on. Think about it. You shoot a flashlight into the night sky and the area around you is only illuminated on the most minute of levels, but once it hits a tree, or the ground, or the face of one of your friends, your view brightens. 

2. Not all Christmas lights are the same, and not all of them are equally beautiful, at least in my eyes. Though each light contributes, some of the most beautiful light shows I've seen make good use of flickering. Constant, steady lights are great, but those lights that flash different colors or sparkle like stars in the bushes have always had a special place in my heart.

3. Remember who we are. Christ, the "true light which shineth" taught us to be the "light of the world." This Christmas, shine.

If you are looking for ways to do that, think about getting involved in the #ShareTheGift push. The church has made a couple of incredible videos to help us focus on the true gift of Christmas. The gift that matters. The gift that came with no receipt, so there are no returns. It is ours to reject or embrace, and it is ours to share. He is the Christ.

Flickering on from a world away, and hoping He enjoys the show,
Elder Whitlock

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holidays and Special Dates

I'm seeing the pictures [of your Thanksgiving] and [my brothers] are a bunch of motjangies! (stylish guys...but it sounds ok in Korean). 

My Thanksgiving week wasn't bad either. We ate well. Had Thanksgiving at the West Casey Chapel with the branch, some investigators, and the zone. I like our zone. I helped make the pies(for 200)the night before. 

We also had a Thanksgiving with the orphanage at the Pihl's house this week.  We are not allowed to talk to them about the gospel. Mostly just teach a little English message and play Bang! with them. We're more there to be their friends than anything else.

Thanksgiving with the orphanage.

We got punked more than 15 times [this week], but we had 4 people come to church (which one-ups Kylie, who is in South America. What up?!). 

We also had a goodbye bang! party for Sister Th and welcomed in Sister E, who is the daughter of a guy from the 70. I asked her if she preferred Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and she said, "What? In a 'who wins in a fight between Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Yoda?' kind of way?" and won a lot of points with me. The answer by the way, is that Yoda loses. Gandalf and Dumbledore... double-team him, though if I had to choose one I would probably bet on Dumbledore.

Man, I've been Christmas trunky for a while. What are you guys going to do for Christmas? 

As a bonus. I remember you mentioning a Christmas package. I'm actually ok with you not sending me anything, because it costs a ridiculous amount of moolah and I don't want to put that burden on you guys. So greatest preference? I'm fine. Don't send anything. But if send something you must, whatever you do, don't send it through the regular way. I've got some friends on the base and shipping is like 5 bucks, and it's way faster.

And, bonus [#2], I'm talking to President about when I go home. My choices are May 15th or June 29th. [I'm]leaning pretty heavily to the May side. Just don't really feel like the mission would miss a step without me, and even though I'm fine, I have to admit that I'm pretty excited to come home. Plus bonus time with Tyler before he goes!  So, I'm leaning pretty hard to May, but I would love your input as well. What would you do and what do you want me to do?

Love you,

Elder Whitlock

Sunday, November 23, 2014

So Much to be Grateful For

So this week we picked up a new guy... who is being fellowship attacked in all the best ways, so I think he has a lot of potential. I sang a song and gave the holy ghost talk at a baptism (other elders, super cool guy). 

"The Strong Force"

Also talked a lot about superheroes. Guided my companion (asked the questions) to make our district into a super hero team called "the Strong Force" which sounds lame, but it was pretty fun. He's got ice powers, Sister T talks to animals and can do stuff with oceans, Elder C turns into a yellow and squinty eyed mini-hulk thing, Sister Th flies and has laser vision, Elder B has super speed, and I'm the mental master: telepathic and telekinetic. We made up backstories and villains, and plots, and our hideout, and...we have a lot of time on our hands. Jundoing to empty space is difficult.

We went to the orphans this week...and...had some eggnog (fairly lifechanging stuff)...and...that's about it.

Had a funnish Seoul P-day last week. 

With Elder S
In Seoul

This is my District at the Seoul Temple.
The squirrel in the front, Sister Th, is from my generation.  She likes to strike poses.
It's sort of a Sister Th-ism.  We sat together on the plane ride over, and she is going home this week.
We went shopping in Insa dong and saw some cool stuff. Park built where the ruins of a Buddhist temple are.  Some of the ruins still poke out.  That's the place where the Korean independence (from Japan) movement started.

Today was funner. Bang! party at the Pihls. Sister Th's final P-day. I was wrecked by [her] both games, but it was fun to snack and talk with everybody.

We will be with the Pihls for Thanksgiving, and also with the Branch, so we get it twice.  That is, you guessed it, twice the delicious!  Life is always good.

Send lots of pictures, and know that I love all of you.

Elder Whitlock

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bunkers and Buddies

Gonna focus today on pictures for you, but thank you so much for the email.  Love you!

Elder Whitlock with his companion and his District Leader.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dreams and Nightmares

Yeah, it is freezing here. For me. I don't have the greatest blood circulation due to my low blood pressure, and being tiny. To rectify the situation, Elder B has put me on a gain diet and I'm now working out his way, which is less strenuous, but for some reason I feel more sore. Hopefully I get huge.

Family Home Evening: every week on Monday in the Pihl's apartment, which is in the same complex as ours. The missionaries and a couple of recent converts come, but it is mostly for LAs and potential investigators.  [The Pihls] are both from the Utah area, I think. He's a retired jet pilot from the Air Force. Fun people. Took us to a haunted house this week.

Elder Whitlock with an FHE buddy.  Photo Credit: the Pihls

"FHE fights", complements of Sister Pihl

 Trip to the haunted barrick on base with the Pihls and the children from the orphanage:

With the director of the orphanage (and who knows what else!)

"Say, 'chem chee!'" Sister Pihl said, "Great night. This is a first for the Korean children... 
They don't celebrate Halloween here." Photo credit, Elder Pihl.

The branch has maybe a hundred people who come. I'm not sure how many less actives there are out here, but there are quite a few stronger members as well. Much bigger than Chuncheon ward. The leadership is also good. President Peden is actually new, he just barely got his calling on the first Sunday I was there, but he runs a nice MCM (first one of those I've been to besides one in Gireum where they forced it because a 70 was coming). He's got lots of leadership experience. He's the camp’s Command Sergeant Major, which puts him at basically the top of the Sergeant tree (So most officers are above him, but not all, and there is only one of them in each major installation. He's pretty successful.)

Actually, this week wasn't the best. We got 14 lesson stats, which is a fair week for me in any other area, but this place is supposed to be the promised land and of those "lessons" we actually only met with two people. Everyone else punked their appointments. So I jundoed for the whole week, but it turns out that this is actually a terrible jundo area because no one is really around.

I thought it was funny that it advertised "musical and coffee."
There is a lot of dumb advertising here.
Yeah, this is my city.  Pretty empty, huh?

So yeah, just another "Why am I even here?" kind of week.

The only guy we met for more than 10 minutes is.... African-American-Korean. Dad was a soldier in the war who went home when it was done. Raised by his Korean mom. Speaks Korean and some English. Interesting guy. The fun thing about him is he told us about a dream he had where he wakes up in the night and rolls over and sees that his wife is Buddha, with the massive earlobes and mustache and everything. Then a bunch of his anscestors appear to him and tell him that since they didn't follow Christ they are being blocked from going to heaven by the gods guarding the path and that he has to do something about it. Needless to say, we'll be having a good look at D&C [138] next visit.

Love you!
Elder Whitlock

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Into North Korea

So the orphanage thing was just a one time deal for me so far, but the idea is that one of the three teams in my district goes every week and we rotate, so I'll go again next week.

(video of Elder Whitlock and his companion playing Bang! 
with orphans at the orphanage, complements of Sister Pihl)

(Photo credit: Sister Pihl, who said, "Wonderful job!  
So glad to have Elder Whitlock as part of our team.  The kids love him!")

The branch is English speaking. It's predominantly made up of military member families and single soldiers, although the area opened up for the first time a year ago and there are a small collection of converts coming as well. 

(Sister Pihl sent this video, saying, "What a great night.  
Thought you might enjoy watching a great teacher.")

(Elder Whitlock teaching Family Home Evening
Photo credit: Sister Pihl)

I actually gave a talk this week. Prepped it with 15 minutes in mind, but [the speaker before me] went long, so I just took two minutes at the end and nailed it. Public speaking is dramatically easier both in English and with Short and Sweet as the objective.

The Pihls are the Senior Missionary couple assigned to the branch. They are the ones that make it all tick. Great people and are like grandma and grandpa to everyone here. The best ever!

Investigators...honestly not a ton to report this week. They're all basically the same. 

Birthday was good. We taught some people, ate some jajangmyun, which is a "Chinese" noodle dish with black sauce. The funnest thing was the DMZ trip the day before. ... I lucked out getting to serve in the same zone as [Elder S] for his last one. We talked a lot on the bus, and I talked a lot with Elder K as well. 

We kind of got the full DMZ experience. We ran through this tunnel that the North dug under the DMZ for a while. It was pretty low so I had to crouch down and run forward. Kind of felt like either some sort of spec ops guy or an ant. Maybe the highlight of the trip. Then we actually went to the DMZ. First to a viewing platform where we got a good look at everything. It doesn't look like you might picture it. I was expecting basically the no man’s land from WW1: a whole lot of dirt with barbed wire and land mines everywhere. Actually, it is super green. Trees everywhere, with a functional little highway that connects the two sides. And for being the Demilitarized Zone, there were a whole lot of soldiers around. 

This is the meeting place in the middle.  I am facing North Korea.

There are a couple of towns in the DMZ, one on the south side where people actually live and farm a good chunk of land (they actually make more money than the average South Korean by a fair bit) and everything is protected by US troops out in the fields constantly. There is also a North Korean town facade where no one actually lives, but there is a massive flagpole (one for both sides, actually) and a tower that used to loudly broadcast propaganda. 

There is also a US base and, right on the line that divides the compound, a meeting room which is also split but is controlled by the ROK. They've got soldiers from the ROK constantly standing in intimidating poses towards the South and US, and ROK guys patroling around.

So we actually went to those places. I went into North Korea, technically. They also told us about a tree trimming incident that almost started a war and a firefight that broke out where I was standing over a defector from the North running cross the border.

It was basically the sweetest P-day ever. I'll send pictures later.

Still no camera, though I'm planning on buying one next week.

Great to hear from you, and love you all!

Elder Whitlock