Thursday, July 30, 2015

"تؤمن بامك؟" - Almost every Chaldean we meet

Elder Hawkes wrote the longest email of his mission last week. You give a missionary an iPad and they write a novel...

The phrase "تؤمن بامك؟" (too'min bi'oumak) (sort of; Arabic doesn't really work in English letters, I've learned) means "Do you believe in your mother?" and is used by a lot of people to justify praying to the Virgin Mary. For those keeping track at home, that logical fallacy is known as a "strawman".

Anyway, enough about praying to Mary (although I will talk about it in this email), let's talk about what happened this week in El-Cajon-Land! This week, we...
- Have three lessons in a row
- Do service and wind up showing up after everything's done
- Teach a pancake
- Add someone!
- Drop someone. :(
- Have a guy talk on us about the Bible (and he knows what he's talking about!)
- Have a dream wherein my ward mission leader is the mission president
- Finish inputting stuff into Area Book Planner! :D
- Find someone because of pool water
- Get told to "Pray to Mary" many much times

First off, I'm recovering from a cold and my voice is pretty much non-existent today. So when reading this, in order to get the full effect, read it out loud in a very raspy voice. ;)

One day Christian will see this email and laugh that a strong photo would
be used for a missionary with a cold. This is what happens when said
missionary didn't send any photos....notice how they all have black badges
about where the pocket is....I thought that was appropriate.
On Wednesday this week we had a great day, albeit a little unusual. To start the day off, someone actually called us and said that we could come teach them!

Which never happens.

So we went and taught them. It was a very scattered lesson. They weren't very focused and had a lot of questions. They said they're pretty busy but that we were welcome if they're around. Right after that, there was another potential investigator we wanted to go visit. So we went to their house and they were home! We went in and taught them the Restoration. They weren't too interested in hearing the message ("We are Catholic") but they also said we're welcome to stop by sometime. After that, we tried a few people who weren't home and then got in the door with the family we had taught earlier in the week (see last week's email where it talks about what happened on Monday to know which one I'm talking about). This time the entire family was home and we started to teach all of them.

I say "started" on purpose, because their uncle who was sitting in on the lesson pulled out the Bible and started trying to bash with us. Revelation 22, John 3:16, etc. Learning from past experiences when it comes to people trying to bash with us, we bore testimony of the Restoration and the Book of Mormon and asked if he believed it were possible for God to reveal more scripture. He gave a solid "No." And that was pretty much the end of the lesson. After that, the family was
really not interested in hearing anything else and it was quickly turning into the wrong time and wrong place, so we prayed with them, thanked them for their hospitality and willingness to have us over, and left. That lesson was a bit of a sour patch for the day, to be honest, but we got back up and after discussing whether or not it was worth our time to go back later got going again.

On Thursday we had a service opportunity! The Special Olympics are being held in Los Angeles and so our local public affairs coordinator person guy got the church lined up with the opportunity to prepare lunches for the kids who were going to be participating. It was at 7 A.M., so when we woke up we had to quickly shower, get changed, and drive to the stake center. By the time we got there, it was pretty much already over! The coordinator person dude thanked us for coming and helping (even though we didn't really do much aside from close some brown paper bags) and told us we could head out. Wish we had been able to do more, but it was still a great time! After that, we had a great weekly planning session and companionship inventory wherein we planned really well for people we would work with (more on that in a later section) and made sure we were both on track, then we went to contact some more potentials. That evening, we taught Nishwan, a referral from some Spanish Elders (the same guy that was bashing on us Monday night).

Bit of an explanation as to why I called him a "pancake". I do not intend to demean him or to say he's a bad person, because he's cool. But he flipped and he flopped on a lot of things in the lesson. One minute he was telling us we're welcome anytime, the next he was saying we could only come if we had a native speaker with us. One minute he was telling us he liked our pictures and the next he was saying that he doesn't like pictures because it says in the Bible not to worship idols.

We had a scattered lesson with him and by the end of it he told us he's searching for truth and willing to meet with us, so definitely someone we're going to go back to... most likely. Like I was describing earlier, he was kind of flip-floppy in the lesson so we're not sure if we want to bring a native speaker and waste his time with a guy that isn't interested.

On Friday we added a man named Saif (سيف, "Sword" His full name translates to "Sword of the religion." Arabic names are cool.)! He was a potential we'd been trying to get ahold of since the middle of being a trio, so it was great that we were able to finally meet with him. He had really good English and understood what we were telling him, even if we were saying it in English. At the end, Elder Greer extended the baptismal invitation and he accepted! Elder Greer then said, "We'll be holding a baptismal service on August 15th. Will you be baptized on that date?" And he said yes!

:D :D :D

... and then told us we're welcome back but that he isn't available until August 1st.

So that's how our investigator gained and lost a baptismal date within 5 minutes of each other.

We also dropped إخلاص (Ikhlas) because she hasn't been progressing and she's got a lot on her plate right now. :(

On Saturday we went to visit a man named عدل (A'adal; the first letter, ع, has no English equivalent). He invited us in warmly and we explained who we were. He then proceeded to talk about the Bible. Extensively. He dove into the Old Testament, connected things from the Old Testament with the New, discussed culture and the original Greek and Hebrew... after a little while (it felt like a much longer time) we found a good stopping point, asked if we could help him out with anything, and asked who he knew that we could teach. He gave the response that we get from a lot of people ("I'm a Christian, they're Christian, go teach Muslims!") but then pointed us to a door and said "They're Muslim. Go teach them!" So we went over and asked if we could come by. They weren't really interested in learning. But hey, he pointed us to a specific door, which is something people tend to not do, so that's a major plus!

Right before I woke up on Sunday, I had a dream wherein the ward mission leader, Bro. Seba, was acting as the mission president unofficially. He was interviewing missionaries to be new Arabic-speaking missionaries and was also going to interview Elder Greer and I to see if we should stay. He interviewed Elder Greer first (I remember telling him in my dream to interview him first, then two others, then me, so it didn't seem like he was picking favorites) and I suppose Elder Greer "passed". Then after a little while he interviewed me. He started off by telling me, "I'm thinking of transferring you where you'll have more success..." and I told him that while it was up to him whether I got transferred or not, I didn't care how many people were or were not baptized by the end of my mission in Arabic work as long as I was able to work hard and "warn the people." I remember walking out of the room feeling like he'd probably keep me in Arabic work. And then I woke up. I'm not sure what to make of the dream, to be honest. In hindsight, I'm a little confused as to why I would think the ward mission leader would be calling the shots as to whether I get transferred in the future or not, but I suppose dreams don't always make sense. I only include it in here because I thought it was noteworthy and I remember it quite vividly as if it had actually happened.

On Sunday, محمد (Mohammed/Muhammad, one of our recent converts) brought his kids to church, شمس (Shams, "sun") and كرام (Karaam, I think it's from the same root as كريم which means "generous", so maybe like "A person who is generous" or something to that effect; Elder McCombie will probably correct me). We've been talking with Bro. Seba about how to help محمد progress towards the Melchizedek Priesthood and we think that the best way to get him to progress towards the temple and get his wife baptized is to teach the kids and build their desire. So right now we're in the "set-up" stage. In my mind I'm envisioning it like a row of dominoes, where right now we're setting it all up so that when it's executed in the Lord's time and the Lord's way the kids will not only be baptized, but محمد will get the Melchizedek
Priesthood and receive the temple endowment, his wife will be baptized, and together they'll be sealed in the temple, which is the end result of all activity in the church. It's really interesting to set it all up and see under the guidance of the Spirit how to set it up in such a way that all of that will happen. And it all starts with building their desire to come to church. In the coming weeks (and quite possibly months), as things fall into place, it'll be wonderful to see it all happen.

Yesterday we finished inputting our records into Area Book Planner. This means that (aside form a few gaps when it comes to sacrament meeting attendance and new-member lessons) everything is not only online but up-to-date. It's been a little tedious going through and getting everything in, but now that it's over I'm relieved. Also yesterday, we were walking around and noticed a trail of water. And not a tiny one. It looked like someone had left their hose running. Wanting to be good pseudo-citizens of California we decided to follow it and let the homeowner know. We knocked on his door and he said he was just draining out his pool to get it replaced. He also took the time to expressly tell us he wasn't interested in our message. So we asked him who he knew that spoke Arabic and he pointed us to his neighbor across the street. We walked over there, knocked on the door, and a lady answered. She talked to us about how she's looking for a place to bring her kids where they can learn about Jesus and they can understand (the kids speak Chaldean and English, not Arabic, which makes it hard because she attends an Arabic congregation). We said we'd love to come by another day and share a message and even do some yard work for her. She was really happy to hear that and kept telling us that we must have been sent from God. We gave her our number and the church's address and she said she'd talk to her husband and set up a time when we could come and do service for her. So that's how we found someone because of a swimming pool!

Few more things, I promise.

I mentioned earlier praying to Mary. In the Chaldean Catholic Church, praying to Mary is a very big deal. Most people say they don't like the إنجلين (Injeleen, Evangelical Christians) or the Jehovah's Witnesses (both of which have a presence in Iraq) because they don't pray to Mary. I'm not entirely sure when Mary worship got started, but I know that it's centuries old at least. Usually, when we're talking with someone, they'll ask us "Do you believe in the Virgin Mary?" And that's when we tread lightly, because by "believe" they tend to mean"pray to". So we usually say, "Yes, but we don't pray to her." That's when we usually get one of a few responses:
1) "تؤمن بامك؟" ("Do you believe in your mother?")
2) "You HAVE to pray to her!"
3) "She's the mother of Jesus and you HAVE to honor her!"
4) A few really out-of-the-blue ones, such as "In the 10 Commandments it says to 'Honor your father and mother'" and "If I took you and your mother out to dinner, and I bought you tons of food but I didn't get your mother anything, would you be happy? That's why you have to pray to her!"
Generally we can get people to rethink it by telling them the Bible says to pray to the Father only, with a few exceptions here and there. Out of all the traditions and interpretations I've heard, praying to Mary is the one that I can't wrap my head around because it isn't rooted in any scripture or even loose interpretation of scripture.

Something something something "Let them worship how, where, or what they may."

Not to say I hate Chaldeans because of Mary worship (of course not!), but it's just a tradition that doesn't make sense to me.

Thanks everyone for your emails and letters. I love getting mail (physical and electronic) so don't be afraid to send me something! Have a great week!

Cool Arabic thing for the week is actually a culture thing: There is Chaldean (a modern evolution of Aramaic used in Chaldean rituals and spoken by most Chaldeans) and there is also Coptic, which is a modern evolution of Ancient Egyptian. In Egypt, 5% of the population is Coptic, which is a Christian church similar to the Orthodox churches traditionally founded by Mark (the Gospel writer). Coptic is only used in Coptic worship services.

-- Elder Hawkes

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