Monday, December 30, 2013

Dear Family,

Let me first of all start by saying that I am still on cloud nine from talking to you. I can't tell you how much I loved the time that we got to spend skyping. I really miss all of you so much and so being able to see your faces and talk was the best Christmas present I can imagine. I just wish it could have been longer. I thought that I was different from everyone else and that when I was at home I thought that I was pretty good about appreciating all of you (I know I wasn't very humble back then) but being separated from you I really understand just how much I love and adore all of you. Heavenly Father honestly blessed me with the best family ever and I can't wait until Mother's Day when I can talk to all of you again. 

Now for the week. Monday for P-day we went on a hike through this redwood forest and it was incredible. I still am in awe of the beauty of this country. After that we went to the ward Christmas party which was really a huge BBQ and bonfire at our Bishops house because he lives out in the middle of nowhere. I just love the ward that I am serving in. I feel like I am at home because I feel like I fit in so well with all the members. I also feel like I have my own fan club with all of the little girls that follow us everywhere. I tell you when you put on a missionary badge you become an instant celebrity to kids. So I really enjoyed spending time with my new ward family.  Now I know that we talked briefly about our Christmas Eve and Christmas day activities but I thought I would just write it all out again. For Christmas Eve we just had a normal day of proselyting except that during our dinner break we decided to make our own "fancy dinner". Our logic is that one day we are going to be in charge of the Christmas festivities at our house so we better start practicing. Sister Doole made bread-sticks and mashed potatoes, Sister Pongi made otai (which is a Tongan fruit drink) and I made chicken fried steak and a dessert called "banoffee pie" (It's supposed to be a banana toffee pie) I must say that I was pretty impressed by the food because it all turned out amazing. Maybe there is hope for me to one day be as amazing as the women in my life when it comes to Holiday parties :)

Christmas day was great because the members in our ward are just so amazing. We had a couple invite us and the elders over for breakfast and it was wonderful. This couple is so sweet and they have been married for seven years and are struggling to have children so I told them our story and they said that it gave them a renewed hope in the plan that Heavenly Father has for them and their family. After breakfast we went to the home of an investigator that the elders in the other ward are teaching so that Sister Pongi could make otai for them. These investigators are a Samoan family and so it was a lot of fun to experience a part of their Christmas. Lets just say that they really like their loud music and dancing. After that we went out to our Bishops house for Christmas dinner. He and his wife have five kids, one boy and four girls with ages ranging from 7 to 15. It was just so much fun to spend Christmas in their crazy house because it reminded me of our crazy house on Christmas day. Another family from the ward also came over and they have four kids all under the age of 10 so it was just very loud and fun. I honestly loved it. We spent the rest of the day visiting other members and then we went for a drive up the mountain that is in our area. I have to say that it was a much better Christmas than I could have imagined. I opened all my presents Christmas night and I am still so grateful for everything I received. I have the best friends and family. I also know that my companions loved the gifts that you sent them too. I was also overwhelmed by the love that we felt from the ward and our investigators. Everywhere we went people had gifts for us from huge boxes of chocolate to nail polish to sentimental cards. It really was a Christmas that I will never forget. 

As for the rest of the week it was pretty good. Everyone was still in the holiday mood so it made the work a little harder but we did our best. We had a lesson that we were going to where we were going to teach the word of wisdom to our investigator that wants to be baptized but has a smoking problem. She already knows she needs to over come it but we thought that if we taught her the doctrine behind it then it would help her. So we went to the house but when we walked in there were all of these extra people over visiting. I mean there were cousins and aunts and uncles and grandchildren of this lady and they all sat down with us for the lesson. I started to panic for a second because I knew that we couldn't teach the lesson that we had planned. I said a quick prayer in my heart and then I knew instantly that we needed to teach the plan of salvation but there was still one problem, my companions thought we were going to teach the word of wisdom and that was the lesson we had practiced and had all figured out. I said another prayer and I calmly pulled the Plan of Salvation pamphlet out of my bag and showed it to my companions during the opening song. Both of them looked at the pamphlet and at me in terror but I nodded to assure them that everything would be ok.  As we started to teach things just started to flow and the spirit was so strong. They asked us hard questions but we always had an answer and when I didn't know what else to say my companions were there to back me up. It was so incredible. At the end of the lesson everyone kept commenting on how it all made so much sense. The lady we were there to teach really really wants to get baptized now and we are hoping to set a date with her this week. The rest of her family is interested in learning now too. It was an awesome experience for all three of us. 

We had another great experience this weekend when we got to be a part of the baptism of this teenage boy. This boy named Mannie has been coming to church faithfully for over six months but his mom wouldn't let him get baptized because she thought it was just a phase. However it wasn't a phase and he stuck with it for six months and then out of no where she said that he could be baptized on Saturday. It was so cool! Now Mannie lives in the elders area so technically he is their baptism but we all taught him together so it was another joint effort. Mannie said he liked the lessons more when we were there than just the elders :) But he was baptized by his best friend and it was such a spiritual experience for everyone that was there. He had waited so long and he finally made it. He just kept saying over and over again that it was worth it. He is already planning to serve a mission when he turns eighteen and then devote the rest of his life to living the gospel. It was just see someone his age have such a determination to do whats right because of the testimony that he has. I feel so blessed to even be a part of it. 

Well that is about it for this week. I love and miss you all and I hope that you had a great Christmas. Thank you thank you thank you for the gifts and the love! I love you!!!!!!!

So this one was from last Monday when we went to this huge Redwood Forest. It was massive and the trees were amazing. Actually this first picture was from the drive over but I think it illustrates how great my companions are. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dear Family,

 We had another great week here in New Zealand and I am loving every minute I spend here. Finally the weather is really starting to warm up. I have been waiting for months to be hot and it finally happened this week. It's funny though because everyone kept saying that it gets really hot here and that I need to be prepared for it but the heat never really came. Yes it was warm and we would have days that I didn't need to wear a cardigan but still it was nothing compared to the summers I am used to. Actually last Monday it was really nice outside during the day but as we were walking to our FHE appointment I thought "I should have grabbed a sweater, it's a bit chilly outside." then we got to the house and one of the ward members was standing outside the door saying how hot it was. I laughed because the locals think it's so hot here all the time when in reality it is still chilly. This week though it did get pretty warm and I loved it. The only problem is I am not used to the humid heat. So even though it isn't that hot because it is so humid it can be pretty miserable. It's also so weird to me to see Christmas trees and lights everywhere but have it be warm out. I really cant get over it. I am pretty sure that is why it doesn't feel like Christmas.

  Sister Pongi really showed growth this week. I have been working so hard to help her build confidence in herself so that she is willing to contribute to lessons. She has opened up and there are as few homes that we go to that she feels quite comfortable so she really lets her personality come out. She is just so much fun. In some ways she reminds me of Sister Vea. I think it's a Tongan thing. I LOVE TONGANS! and I love my companion. I am so blessed to be given the best companions and to get to know so many phenomenal sisters. This week Sister Pongi and I had exchanges with out Sister Training Leader and I went with Sister Harman (the STL) and Sister Pongi was with her companion Sister Mu'amoholeva who is also from Tonga. Both sisters are relatively new and so we just let them go for it. They ended giving away eight "Joy to the World" dvd's and teaching a few lessons all in the span of a couple hours. They said that there were some people that tried to avoid them when walking down the street but they chased them down and made them listen. I told Sister Harmon that they should put two Tongans together more often. I think this experience helped Sister Pongi so much though because she was able to teach without being self conscious about her English because Sister Mu'amoholeva is the same as her and so now she has the confidence to teach lessons when it is just her and I.

   We had a baptism this week too. Well kinda... so the Elders were teaching these 9 year old twin boys and their mom (a returning member) found out that one of the elders was finishing his mission so she wanted him to baptize the boys. The only problem for the elders is that the boys have a single mother and so they couldn't go in the house to teach the lessons. Instead of them trying to teach outside in the rain, the elders invited us along to a lesson. We all had so much fun teaching them that the mom asked if we could always come to the lessons. From then on we went to every lesson and helped teach the boys and prepare them for baptism. I tell you it was a blast. The boys were baptized on Saturday night and it was a really special experience. Both elders got to baptize one of the boys and they asked me to speak on repentance. This was a really cool experience for Elder Krull too because he finishes his mission tomorrow and he was able to have one last baptism. I am grateful that we were able to be a part of it. 

   Last week I mentioned our investigator Kahu who is supposed to be baptized this Saturday. Well that whole situation has been pretty interesting because all week we have been at her house but we have been prompted not to talk to her about it. To add to it all the people that said they were going to visit her and talk to her about her baptism never did. At first I was discouraged but then I realized that everything was happening just the way Heavenly Father wants it too. Kahu came to the baptism on Saturday (she comes to everything) and I know she felt the spirit. Bishop talked to her afterwards and she expressed that she didn't know what to do. She wants to get baptized she just feels like she isn't ready yet. She is thinking of now getting baptized on January 4th at the same time as her son is planning on baptizing his best friend Mannie. Bishop told her to pray about it and counsel with her son. When I heard this I thought "We need to go talk to her now" but then the spirit told me to keep waiting and to give her her space. I still don't know what's going to happen this week but I know that the Lord is in control because this is His daughter and He knows her better than she knows herself. I know it will all be okay no matter what happens. Please keep praying though. I know the prayers have helped because last week she wasn't going to get baptized at all and now she is considering it again. Thank you all so much.

   Well that is all I have for this week. I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season. I am a little sad that I can't be there to share it will all of you but I know my place is here. I love Christmas and I believe that I am able to share more Christmas joy being here than anywhere else. I love and miss you all!

Sister Simkins

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear Family,

Well I had a rather uneventful week this week so there isn't going to be too much to this letter. Sorry. First of all let me say that I have been really really sick. I caught a cold on Tuesday and it just  got worse and worse each day. I probably should have stayed in a day or two and rested but when I can't work I get a little crazy so I tried to work through it. One of the days it rained here like crazy and the elders dropped us off at our first appointment and said they would be back to pick us up when we were done because they didn't want me walking in the rain. So we taught our lesson and we were waiting on the elders when they called and said they had to see someone and couldn't come get us but they said because I was sick to just stay where we were and hang out with our investigator. (The girl we were teaching is named Julie and she has become one of our really good friends. Her little brother and sister were baptized last year and now we are teaching her. But she's great and the elders knew she wouldn't mind us just crashing at her house.) So we stayed there for a while and she taught us a lot about Maori culture so I don't feel like the time was wasted. However we kept waiting and waiting and I felt like we really needed to see this other family. Mom you would have totally killed me but I decided to brave the weather and walk to this house which was about 20 minutes away even through it was pouring outside. Sister Pongi and I put on our rain coats and went for it. It was one of the funnest things I have done and probably the stupidest since being here. The rain was so intense that within five minutes my rain coat reached it's max capacity and quit repelling water. After about ten minutes we were soaking wet. I don't think I have ever been that wet being fully clothed. Now keep in mind that this happened while I was fighting that bad cough that I get sometimes. We eventually made it to the house that we wanted to and as soon as we reached the front door the elders called saying they were done and on their way to get us. I laughed and told them that we were at this other house and when they found out that we walked in the rain they were so mad but all we could do was laugh. It was all worth it though because we were finally able to meet with the family I told you about a while ago whose house burned down. They said that they still want to be baptized and that they have missed having us around. I think they also took pity on us because we were soaked so they saw the sacrifice we made to come see them. In a way it help to prove to them how much we love them. After that the elders came and picked us up and when I got in the car one of the elders turned around and said "Going for The Notebook look Sister Simkins? " I was so wet my hair looked like I had just gotten out of the shower but it was just so much fun. Seriously when will I ever walk in the rain like that again after my mission? I wish I had taken pictures but my camera battery died and so I didn't get any. This whole adventure in the rain did make me sicker though and I thought I was going to have to see a doctor but this morning I woke up and I think I have turned a corner. Don't be mad because I don't have any regrets.

Now another funny story of the week. Sister Pongi and I went this week to visit one of our favorite members and we were talking with her and she said "Alright sisters I have to ask because you know probably know more than me. What caused the fight on Sunday?" I was surprised and I asked "What fight?" and she said "You didn't hear about the fight between Brother Khan and Brother Barber?" and I was even more surprised because Brother Khan is our ward mission leader. So apparently last Sunday during priesthood one man said something that made the other mad and so they went out into the hall and started fighting it out. Can you believe that? There was an actual fist fight at church and not between young men but high priests. I couldn't believe it and then I couldn't stop laughing about it. Seriously how do you get in a fight at church? Its times like these that I am reminded that I am in fact in a foreign country. 
So one of our investigators is supposed to be baptized next week and now she is having second thoughts... again. She has been taught by missionaries for years, she comes to church, reads the scriptures, says her prayers, goes to a FHE group, and does everything else that an active member of the church does. And when she found out that the family I mentioned before had lost their house she immediately gave them one of her beds and her couch. She is honestly amazing, but she just won't commit to baptism. When we fist started meeting with her in October she was the one to set her own date for baptism and she chose December 21st but now she is backing out and we don't  know how to help. Her kids are active members and her son was supposed to baptize her so she has a ton of support. We don't really know what to do at this point so please please please keep her in your prayers. This week is crucial because if she doesn't get baptized next week then she will wait a another year because the date means something to her and that is the only she will be baptized on. She is ready and everyone knows it. She's just letting the adversary get to her. Please she needs all the help she can get. Because I have seen the power that comes though praying for people by name I will tell you her name is Kahu and its pronounced "ka-hoo" Really I love her so much and I love her family and I want them to be united in the temple someday so please keep her in your prayers. 

Well that is all that I have for this week. Sorry its a pretty boring/depressing letter. I hope that everyone else has a great week! . 



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dear Family,

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone had a great day. I guess I'll start off this letter by telling you about my thanksgiving. So Thursday morning the phone rings and I answered it by saying "Hello this is Sister Simkins" (because that's how we're supposed to answer the phone) then the voice on the other end said "Is this Sister Simkins from New Mexico?" and I instantly recognized the voice so I responded by saying "Yes it is. Is this Elder McLachlan from Canada?" and sure enough it was. It turns out that Elder and Sister McLachlan's daughter is visiting from Canada so they were visiting all the tourist attractions and they happened to be in Rotorua and they wanted to meet up for lunch. So I got to spend have a thanksgiving lunch here with my temporary adopted grandparents and it was so great to see them. For dinner the elders organized to have Thanksgiving dinner with this lady in the ward who is from America. She's lived in New Zealand for over 15 years or something like that and she is married to a kiwi. They (the Brooks family) are one of my favorite families in the ward and Sister Brooks served her mission in California and she said her trainer was from New Mexico and her name Kara Sewell. Sound familiar? Anyways they are a great family and we had a great night. Turkey here in New Zealand is really really expensive so we feasted on roasted chicken and kumara (New Zealand  sweet potato) and Sister Brooks made a bunch of different pies.  So all around it was a very different Thanksgiving from what I'm used to but I still loved it non the less. I wish you all could have been here. It's weird though because it's warm outside it didn't feel like Thanksgiving and it really doesn't feel like Christmas time now. I think that is why it was so easy to be away because it really doesn't feel like the holiday season. I am also grateful for the fact that I only have to miss one Thanksgiving and one Christmas because you all know how I live for those holidays. 

So lets just say that if the bugs aren't biting me in the flat then they are biting me when I'm walking outside. My legs were destroyed again this week and like the last time a few of the bites got really infected. Like they got so infected I had to go see a doctor and I am on antibiotics again. I am so sick of the bugs here and the bug bites I could scream. My legs are just trashed with scars. It's pretty sad that my mission battle scars are from flea bites. 

We had zone conference on Tuesday and so we got to travel from Rotorua to Tauranga. Tauranga is a town right on the coast and it was so beautiful. I couldn't take pictures but I hope I get to go back there someday because it was spectacular. Zone conference was really great though and I am constantly reminded of just how amazing my mission president is. President Rudd really is the best. His wife is my favorite too. I am so blessed to be serving here in the most beautiful place in the world and under the best mission president. 

Sister Pongi and I are really starting to get to know each other and have a good time together, She is pretty funny although she isn't as outgoing as Sister Vea was. I am really enjoying serving with her. It's funny though because she is so shy that I have to do most of the talking because she just won't talk but I am not used to being the talkative one. I don't like starting conversations with people but that is all I do now. I'm turning into this social butterfly and it's so weird. I am going to give Tyler and Molly a run for their money when I get home. I also can't wait to see what a mission does to Danny because he hates talking to people and that is all missionaries do.

Yesterday we went out to bishops house for dinner and they live in one of the farming suburbs of Rotorua and while we were out there we visited some other people. I loved it though because we visited farms so in one day I got to hold baby ducks, puppies, and kittens. I would say that was a pretty successful day. This area is just so great and the members here are the best. It will be a sad day when I have to leave. I was sitting in Relief Society yesterday watching all the women and I realized that I felt the same as when I was at home. I feel like this ward is now my ward and I love them like I love everyone in 7th ward. It is a very neat feeling.

This week we had a hard week because all of our appointments and back-ups fell through so we went to visit less-actives and members and every time we visited someone they would say "Oh I was hoping you would come by today" or "I was just thinking about you sisters" it's pretty cool when this happens. Another cool story from this week was one night Sister Pongi and I had just finished up meeting with someone and we were going to walk home to do language study before it got dark because it's not safe for us to be out at night. So we started to walk home and we were pretty far away and I got this really sick feeling inside.  I felt like something really bad was about to happen. I didn't know what to do because there wasn't anyone that we knew close by and I thought the elders were at a lesson in another town so I just prayed in my heart and we kept walking. I explained to Sister Pongi what I was feeling and she said she felt the same way. The feeling didn't go away and I was waiting for whatever it was to happen.  All the sudden the phone rang and it was the elders. I answered it and one of the elders said "Where are you? We're coming to pick you up" and we were in the car three minutes later. They said that they felt like they needed to spend the night just visiting members and they wanted us to come. The elder that had called said that it was his idea and for some reason he knew they needed to bring us with them. I then explained what we were feeling and we all were pretty amazed. I don't know what would have happened had we kept walking but I know we were being watched over. 

Well that is all I have for this week. I hope that you all enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit. Just don't forget me sitting here on a rock on the middle of the Pacific ocean living the dream. I love and miss all of you!