Friday, May 30, 2014

Dear Family,

This week has been one of the most utterly frustrating and faith promoting week of my life. I have had a few tests done and unfortunately they haven't been able to find anything wrong. The medical system here is not as advanced as it is in the US and so there are some challenges. I am pretty sure I know what's wrong and everyone that I talk to and describe my symptoms to says the same thing and that is that the problem is my gall bladder. The problem with this though that here in New Zealand the only way that they can diagnose gall bladder problems is if they find gallstones through an ultrasound. I had an ultrasound last Thursday and they didn't find any gall stones so according to the doctors here there isn't anything wrong with my gall bladder. President and Sister Rudd have been trying to set up a hydascan for me because that is what they use in the states to diagnose gall bladder problems. Well come to find out that test isn't available here. Talk about frustrating! 
  Last Tuesday we left the mission boundaries to go to a gerontologist in Auckland. I felt so rebellious because I never imagine I would leave the boundaries of the mission. The doctor I saw was really nice and after doing a brief evaluation he set me up to have some tests done. He ordered an ultrasound and an endoscopy. I had the ultrasounds done on Thursday morning in Hamilton and then the endoscopy done Friday morning in Auckland. Sister Vasi and I have done so much driving around this country that it's not even funny. 

   They didn't find anything in my ultrasound so they went ahead and did a endoscopy and that is where the put me under and then stuck a camera down my throat to look at my insides. It was so weird because the doctor put an IV in my arm and then he said that he was inserting the medicine and that it would make me sleepy and out of it. He said "You may not go all the way to sleep but this will help you not feel anything from the procedure." Immediately after he finished talking I felt like I was in a cloud. It was that awful feeling that I hated so much after my knee surgery. It was awful. To make it worse I did wake up a few times throughout the procedure and although it didn't hurt it was really uncomfortable because I could feel this thing being shoved in my throat and I could feel something moving in the pit of my stomach. After the procedure they took me into another room to sleep off the rest of the medication. While I was still recovering the doctor came in and talked to me but I was still so out of it that I hardly remember what he said. I do remember him saying that he didn't find anything so he said that my "stomach was just spasming and that there wasn't anything wrong with me." I asked him if he checked my gall bladder and he said "No because nothing came up on the ultrasound so I didn't need to check it." He talked to Sister Vasi who was waiting in another room and he told her pretty much the same thing. As a last effort to figure out what's wrong with me, he ordered some kind of special lower abdomen MRI but the earliest I can have it done is the 13th of June. So pretty much I was just told that nothing is wrong with me and that there isn't anything they can do to help me. I left Auckland feeling so defeated and devastated. I thought this meant that I would have to come home because I knew that I couldn't go on living the way I was for another six months. I then talked to Sister Rudd who was just as upset as I was and she said that Mom had suggested I get a blessing from President Rudd so we drove to the mission office and I asked him for a blessing. 
   President Rudd is so amazing and I am so grateful that he is my mission president. I know that he was meant to be my mission President because he reminds me so much of Dad. They have a very similar way of thinking, their sense of humor is pretty similar and they also have some of the same mannerisms so I feel very comfortable talking to him because it reminds me so much of talking with Dad. I really love him. Anyway he was very gracious and he gave me a really special blessing. One line from the blessing said "I wish to heal you at this time through the power of the priesthood, but that is not the will of your Father in Heaven at this time. But He wants you to be aware that He knows what you are going through and He loves you." President said a lot of other really great things and I was filled with such comfort. After the blessing he turned to me and said "I know we're not out of the woods with this. I know you are still going to have a lot of problems but I don't feel like this is life threatening. You'll be fine for now. We'll move forward with more tests but I don't think you need to be worried." After the blessing all of the feelings of despair that I was feeling were gone and I was no longer worried about the future. The spirit filled me with such peace and comfort. I cannot even explain the feelings that I had. I just knew for the first time in a while that things were going to be okay. And so far they have been. I am still sick but I have been blessed to have the strength I need to do the work. I am no longer exhausted all the time! It is a miracle because we can work almost like normal. President told me to make sure that I rest and take care of myself and so I am but I haven't even had to rest that much. I just know that I could do this for another six months. This whole situation reminds me of the story in Mosiah 24 of Alma and his people when they were being persecuted. 

"9 For Amulon knew Alma, that he had been one of the king’s priests, and... he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.

 10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.

 11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.

 12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.

 13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

 14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as
 ​ ​
witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

 15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, 
the Lord did
 ​ ​
strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

​   ​
I really love this story because Heavenly Father didn't take away their afflictions, He just gave them the strength endure. I know that that is what He is doing with me. He isn't going to remove this from me, but He is blessing me with the strength I need to get through it and still be a successful missionary. 
 ​I am so grateful to me a missionary at this time and I am grateful for all of the prayers on my behalf. I know that Heavenly Father is blessing me because of it. I love and miss all of you! Have a great week!

Sister Simkins​

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Family!

   I am finding it particularly hard to write this letter because at this time I am so overcome with many different emotions that I don't know where to begin. I guess when I started my mission a year ago I imagined that by this time I would be at the top of my game. I thought that I would be having success and teaching the way I want to teach and really loving every minute of it. But sad to say this was one of the hardest weeks on record. I had to face it this week that I am really really sick and that there isn't anything I can do about it.

  I have finally found something about New Zealand that I hate. I thought I loved everything about this beautiful country but I found something that I hate and that is the health care system here. It is such a disaster and I am so frustrated with it. Last Monday I went to the doctors again to follow-up on all the tests that they did last week and the doctor informed me that nothing came up on the blood work therefore nothing was wrong with me. She said that there wasn't anything else that they could do for me so they were going to refer me to a gastroenterologist for further follow-up. I was pretty sad that we hadn't resolved anything and that they determined that nothing was wrong with me jiust because nothing came up in my blood work. She also refused to do an ultrasound to try and figure things out because she said "That is the gastroenterologist's job" I left the appointment feeling so defeated because I was still so sick and in so much pain and at the end she just told me to keep taking the medicine and wait to hear from the gastroenterologist. I was so sick through that by the time we got out of the doctors appointment that the thought of driving the hour and a half home made me want to cry so we decided to just stay a night at the Te Puki sisters' flat. Tuesday morning I woke up with the most horrible pain I have ever experienced in my abdomen and my back and so I called Sister Rudd and she told me to just go to the ER. It's a good thing we stayed the night where we did because the hospital in Tauranga is really good whereas I wouldn't step foot in the Whakatane one if I was dying because it is so creepy and gross. Anyway I went to the ER and this turned out to be the most frustrating thing of all because they didn't do anything to try and figure out what was wrong with me. Here I was in so much pain that I couldn't see straight and they said "Well nothing is coming up on your blood work and chest x-ray so we're just going to send you home." They didn't even try and figure out what was causing my pain. At one point after I told them that I have lost over ten pounds in two weeks because I can't keep food down, one of the nurses said that they needed to get some nutrition into me and so she came and put an IV in my arm and went to get the drip. Then the doctor came in and said they were discharging me and so the nurse just pulled out the IV and I had to leave. I called Sister Rudd as I walked out of the hospital and I was on the verge of tears. I just couldn't believe that I could be in so much pain and the hospital would just send me away like that. After this I still hadn't heard from the gastroenterologist so Sister Rudd called them and she was told that I wouldn't be able to get in to see anyone until August. There was no way that I could wait that long so she called the area doctor and he found a gastroenterologist that can see me tomorrow the only problem is that he is in Auckland. I basically have to leave my I mission boundaries to get the help I need. I am just praying however that this doctor can figure out what is wrong with me because this is my last chance really. Basically if they can't figure out what's wrong tomorrow then I have to come home to see better doctors. New Zealand is behind in the medical field and there is still so much that they don't know and don't do. I guess in my head the normal thing to do when someone comes in with intense abdominal pain is to do an ultrasound to see what's going on inside but getting the doctors to do an ultrasound here is impossible. I just am hoping and praying that they can figure it all out tomorrow because I the thought of coming home because of a medical thing seems almost unbearable. I honestly don't think I would be able to do it.

   As far as the rest of the week not much happened because I am so sick and I can't really work. We stayed in the flat most of the time with week except when we went to Rotorua for exchanges. That was really fun because I was with Sister Swindler on our year mark and I thought that was poetic. I just have been so weak that I can't even enjoy things properly and it is so sad. I wanted to celebrate and have a good time on the fifteenth but with my sickness and some of the problems in Rotorua I just didn't even have it in me to celebrate my year mark and that makes me so sad.

  Funny story from the week: So yesterday we had stake conference and it was a broadcast from Salt Lake with the prophet and other general authorities so that was really neat but anyway after conference we went to eat at our Bishops house because he doesn't live in Whakatane (weird I know but that's what happens down here) so we had a nice lunch and then we were driving to Te Puki about 20 minutes out to get our stuff and head home and I got really sick and barely made it into the sisters flat before I threw up my lunch. After that I was really tired and couldn't drive so I laid down for a nap and while I was sleeping Sister Vasi went out to work with Sister Tepa and then Sister Fitz stayed behind with me. I was fast asleep when all the sudden I hear -"YOU BROKE THE SABBATH?!" -"OH MY GOSH I FORGOT IT WAS SUNDAY!" -"I have to wake up Sister Simkins she is going to die when she hears this story." Then the sisters came in the room and told me the story. Sister Vasi and Sister Tepa were on their way home from tracting when Sister Tepa suggested they buy some subway cookies and bring them back for us. Sister Vasi thought that was a great idea and neither one of them remembered that it was the Sabbath so they bought the cookies and brought them home. It wasn't until they showed Sister Fitz that she reminded them that it was Sunday and they both felt SO bad. We ate the cookies anyway and we are still laughing about the whole thing. Just imagine two sister missionaries walking into Subway on a Sunday and buying cookies. It's still funny.

  I have lived my life looking forward to my mission and now I am here and it has been a dream. I absolutely love it out here and so now the fact that that may all be in jeopardy is heart breaking. I just want to be able to finish my mission honorably and serve the full 18 months. I don't want to come home and I don't want this to end. I love it so much. I love being a missionary and watching the light come into people's lives when they start living the gospel. I want to continue building the kingdom of God and building myself along the way. This is a huge test of my faith. I needed some comfort this morning and so I read Ether 12 which is one of my favorite chapters. I felt peace as I read those sweet words saying that miracles never occur until after a trial of faith. At this point I am asking for a miracle and so I suppose it's in line with the order of Heaven that my faith is being put to the test. "Faith in God includes faith in His timing." I was told that my mission would test my faith in ways I never thought possible but I never imagined that the biggest test of faith on my mission is the possibility of it ending early. I thank all of you for your prayers and fasting. I can't tell you how much that means to me. I love and miss you all. Thank you for the support. I love you!

Sister Simkins

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dear Family!

 Well we have had a very exciting week because we had a general authority visit our mission. Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the fist counselor in the Pacific area Presidency came and did a mission tour this past week. President Rudd told us at the beginning of the month that he was coming but we didn't know when and we found out a few days before that we were going to have Zone Conference on Tuesday. I was pretty excited but I didn't realize at first what a big deal this was to have Elder Pearson visit. I just wasn't prepared for how amazing it was going to be. Last Monday night I got a call from the zone leaders informing me that we had to leave Whakatane at 6:15 am in order to get to Tauranga by 8 because Elder Pearson wanted to have a meeting before Zone Conference with all the leaders and because I am a Sister Training Leader I was invited. It was an early start to the day but it was an incredible day. When Elder Pearson walked into the room where the other leaders and I were waiting I could just feel the spirit so strong. Elder Pearson shook my hand and greeted me by name and then I got to hug his wife. Then we had a meeting where all the leaders stood up and expressed challenges the missionaries were facing so that he knew what needed to be done. I was impressed with all the zone leaders because they were so professional and they had really good concerns. After that meeting we went into the chapel and joined the rest of the missionaries and I got to shake Elder Pearson's hand again. He greeted me by name again but this time he looked me right in the eyes and I felt like he was looking into my soul. After a moment he then said "Thank you so much for your comments in that meeting. You're doing a great job." It was so amazing!!! Then we had an amazing zone conference in which Elder Pearson did the majority of the talking. He instructed us on things that would take our mission to the next level. I left feeling uplifted and inspired to be better and do better and find miracles. As I was getting ready to leave and drive back to Whakatane I went to talk to one of my zone leaders who just got transferred from Whakatane and we were laughing about something and then I said goodbye and he said "See you tomorrow." and I was confused because there wasn't a reason why I would see him tomorrow. Then he said "Mission Leadership Council remember?" and I was shocked because it was supposed to be next Wednesday. Long story short they announced at transfers that MLC had been moved up a week so that Elder Pearson could attend but I didn't go to transfers and so I had no idea and no one told me. The problem was that I didn't have clean cloths or anything to stay the night or the next day so we had to drive an hour and a half back to Whakatane and then pack our stuff and turn around and drive an hour and half back to Tauranga and stay the night so that I could drive to Hamilton the next day. I was a little frustrated but Sister Vasi and I had a good laugh about it. I texted the Zone Leaders when we were about to leave and drive back and I said "If we die driving back tonight we will haunt you for the rest of your lives." and they texted back saying "Well that's fine because you two would be the least scary ghosts ever." So the situation turned out being quite funny but we drove for like five hours back and forth that day.

   Wednesday we had another amazing meeting with Elder Pearson where he addressed all of the concerns I had whether they be personal or having to do with the sisters. It was amazing. I loved every minute of it and I was so sad when it ended. I just felt so lucky that I got to spend so much time with a general authority. For the rest of the week Sister Vasi and I worked so hard to do the things he had told us to and to be the best missionaries. I have to say that the first day of doing this was really hard because no one was home and all our plans fell through and we felt disappointed but we realized that we needed to prove our faith. We pushed through and worked even harder. The next morning we went to an appointment with one of our greatest investigators and she had left a note on the door telling us not to come back. I took a picture of it and I'll attach it to this email because now it's funny to read but at the time we were just devastated. I really asked myself what I was doing wrong but then I realized that we were still being tested and that the adversary was working just as hard as we were so we had to step up and work even harder. After that we did everything within our power to invite others to come unto Christ and we had amazing success. Everyone we went to talk to talked to us for at least fifteen minutes and we found a lot of new investigators. Even when we went to see investigators and they weren't home but a family member was we were able to teach them and have really powerful lessons with them just on the doorstep. It was the coolest thing. The greatest experience happened yesterday though when Sister Vasi and I decided we had to knock doors. We are supposed to talk with a certain number of people each week and we were really low because of Zone Conference and my trip to Hamilton and the fact that everyone else we had talked to we talked to forever. Anyway no one was out yesterday so we prayed about where to go and we started knocking doors. Then the strangest thing happened. Everyone LOVED us! It was remarkable. Even this elderly atheist man who was admit that he will never believe in God invited us out onto his porch to look at a star through his massive telescope. I talked to him for quite a while about science and I bore my testimony to him about how science and religion really support each other instead of debate each other. He seemed to think about it a bit but he still said he didn't believe in God but at least we got him thinking. He then said "I don't know what it is about the two of you. I usually send religious people running but for some reason I let you in so consider yourselves honored." I really enjoyed talking to him though because he was very educated and he knew a lot and it was amazing because everything he said was true as far as science and astronomy and I was able to see Heavenly Father's hands throughout all of it so it just built my testimony. He also talked about the horrible things that were done in the Dark Ages in the name of religion and that also strengthened my testimony of our church because horrible things did happened during that time but it was because the true light and knowledge of the gospel were no longer on the earth.  The next house we went to this middle aged woman opened the door and told us that she was really into her religion but somehow we kept talking to her and eventually she invited us in and taught us how to make this New Zealand dessert called pavlova (It's amazing so I'll make it when I get home) and I been dying to learn how to make it. We talked to her for a while and we didn't get to share too much but we could tell that she really likes us and she told us to come back next week and she would teach us how to make scones. I just don't know what happened yesterday but I am sure it had to be the best door knocking experience ever. We also saw this lady walking to her mailbox and I said "Hi how are you?" and she got angry and said "No we're not interested!" and I smiled and said "Have a nice day" then she stopped and said "Wait are you Jehovah's Witnesses?" and we smiled and said "No" and then she laughed and said "Oh Ok and she walked over and talked to us and asked us what we were doing and stuff like that. In the end she says she has her own religion but as we were saying goodbye she said "You two have a wonderful day. Good luck you're doing a great thing. And you're both beautiful too!" It was so nice and I was filled with gratitude for this kindness of this woman. Yesterday was just amazing! 

  Well that is all for this week! I love all of you and I miss you like crazy. Please stay safe and remember how much I love you!

Sister Simkins