Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Armor of God

Brother Arm wearing the
ARMor of God
 Our youth activity today centered on the Armor of God. We had 16 youth and four elders split up in five groups and make the belt "loins girded about with truth," the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

Elder Gibbons, Watkins, Smith, and Winsor did a great job of teaching the concept and mentoring the groups. Everyone seemed to enjoy the activity. 

We had 16 youth attend. (In July when we started our Saturday Mutual activities, we were lucky to get three attending, and today we had 16! Six non-member, teenage boys walked in with their investigator friends right as we were starting the activity. What a surprise. Pictured below are eight members and two investigators. They are a great group of youth!
Our awesome youth group.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Treasures in My Garden

#6 Lady who gets up late. Please translate into Americanese? 

Please help me identify these flowers and plants in my garden. I wish I would have taken my mother's tutoring in gardening seriously, for she knew all the flowers' names. Alas.

These posted actually represent only a few we have growing in our yard.

Could I grow much in Arizona? No. Only plants that loved heat, and could take care of themselves. But here in Thailand, flowers are plentiful.

#1 small coral flowers
#2 elephant ear size leaves, 2 1/2 feet tall. It must have a better name than Elephant Ears.

The bananas don't grow in my yard but hang over the wall. I've watched them for three months now, wondering if it is my right to pick them. They tell me there is a right way to pick bananas.

This lovely waterlily grows on my front porch, a gift from members of our branch who worked on our lawn while we went to the USA.

 The interesting thing about waterlilies is while one blooms, there is another bud waiting underwater to rise up and blossom when the first one dies. Each blossom has one day of glory in the sun.

#3 This pretty orange blossom is another the members planted in our absence. So lovely. They are coming to the end of their season.

#4 Looks familiar. I should know him. Didn't
he once grow in my house in Mesa?

#5 a bugle 

#6 Orchid, Thailand is famous for them.

These papaya grow in the front year. I've got to find a ladder to pick them. There were two
papaya trees, but one fell in a storm last week.

These orchids grow in hanging pots-- the members brought.
#7 are not snapdragons. The Thais call the blue haway. (Blue Hawaii?--but they
don't have five petals.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our Week's Youth Activity--Mini Golf Through the Plan of Salvation

 You can count on one hand the number of miniature golf courses in Thailand, but last Saturday, our small church house hosted one of the most unique.

Each hole represented part of the plan of salvation.

The first hole represented pre-mortal life and ended with the person receiving a body (a golf ball). 

The next hole one had to hit the ball between water bottles, each labeled with a worldly temptation – tobacco, drugs, immodest dress, etc. The players had to hit the ball straight to avoid the bottles. 

Then came the Valley of Death - hit the ball down a dark tunnel and lose the ball (death). 

Paradise – enjoying cookies and milk while learning that we need our Savior and his atonement to get our body (the ball) back. (Resurrection)
Cookies and milk while learning about
the atonement

The 4th floor--Judgment and the Celestial Kingdom. 

The activity was fun, and indoors as it rained hard while we played. We only had one club, a 6 iron that we borrowed from a local driving range. (The generous  owner loaned it to us without even asking our names.) 

Discussion on what we learned.

At the end of the game the missionaries led a discussion about the plan of salvation – fun gospel lesson. We had two investigators attend. 

Sister Sowards made fudgesicles as the treat. Everyone loved those, too. -E. Sowards

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thailand Receives New Elders and Sisters!

New sisters and elders are:
 Sisters Maughan from MT, Peterson from UT, Ellis from Boise, ID, Peterson from 
American Fork, UT, Carter from CA, Her from CA, Barber from UT
Elders Gage from Springville, UT, Osborn from Provo, UT, Codling from OH, 
Klein from UT, Hartman from Draper, UT, Davis from Kaysville, UT, Batey from San Jose, CA, Madsen from Las Vegas, NV, Wolfley from Layton, UT, Sugihara from WA

Is your son, daughter or friend in this group?
Photo by Wisan Wisanbannawit

Transfer Meeting

While gathering before the meeting, Elders and Sisters show their copies of the Book of Mormon. 
Elders and Sisters sing "Love is Spoken Here" in a special number.

Transfer meeting is always fun and filled with great energy. We said goodbye to Elder Unsworth whose new assignment is district leader and branch president in a small branch (I will post location), and Elder Omer who is now a trainer in Sisaket.

The new Elders to replace them in Ayutthaya are Elders Gibbons and Winsor. Welcome Elders!

Sister Senior always gives inspiring messages.

Elder Bartling accompanies "Called To Serve"--on steroids. I've never heard the sung as fast as these missionaries sing it. And in Thai, what a tongue-twister!

Finishing and going home! (Jobers) Our heroes: Elders Xayavong, Hansen, Tzanis, Appleyard, Susi. Sisters Nuon, Wannapong, Carter, Wiganda, and Pannida. Not pictured is Sister Zatarain who will not  leave yet but before our next transfer. Our office secretary and manager Elder and Sister Jones (Meridian, ID) will also leave before then. So sorry to see them all go!

I love this picture of the bikes parked along the building. It is symbolic of dedication, sacrifice, and the energy of our missionaries. No cars in the mission.

Below: President Senior introduces Elder Appleyard's and Sister Pannida's parents who have come to escort their son and daughter home after serving an honorable mission.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Monk to Missionary by R. Mani Seangsuwan

Monk to Missionary is the biography of R. Mani Seangsuwan, a councilor in the Thailand Bangkok Mission presidency where Elder Sowards and I are serving. His story is fascinating and illustrates the courage that many Thai Buddhists must have to convert to Christianity.  

Born in Chumphon province in the south of Thailand, Mani knew little of the world outside his small village. At age seventeen he left home in search of fun and adventure. He joined a group of "party animals" in Lopburi, Thailand, and thought for a time this was the life for him.
His mother convinced him that he needed to correct his behavior and suggested he become a Buddhist monk. He followed her advice and became a monk at the local monastery. At the end of three months, the typical period of service as a disciple of Buddha, he decided to continue on. After a year he moved to a Buddhist temple in Thonburi across the river from Bangkok. It was here he started to meet Christians. Taking a pamphlet from the Baptists he received a bible study kit in the mail. He studied the Bible in secret while still a Buddhist monk.
His next step was to earn money to become a school teacher. This was the vision that his mother had for him. He met more Christian missionaries and felt good about their message. He was still concerned how other Thais would view him if they knew he was studying about Jesus Christ. The Thai people believe, "To be a good Thai, one must be a good Buddhist". How could he go against his family and the well established culture of his homeland? His decision changed the rest of his life.

All these events happened a few years before the restored gospel was introduced in Thailand. Through President Seangsuwan's story, we see how the Lord prepared him to be one of the first baptized in Thailand and to become a leader in the Church in his nation.

"While the book about the author's transformation from Buddhist monk to Mormon missionary is written on less than 100 pages, the story is one of magnitude."
-Deseret News.

Just finished reading Monk to Missionary for the second time, and I enjoyed it very much"  
-Karl L. Dodge - Former President Thailand Bangkok Mission (2006-2009) Thailand Missionary (1975-1977)

I am pleased to add Monk to Missionary to the Church History Library collection, where it will be preserved and made accessible to future generations

-P. Brad Westwood - Manager of Acquisitions - Church History Library - Salt Lake City, Utah

I just finished Monk to Missionary. It was very interesting and inspiring reading. I enjoyed the life story of Mani Saengsuwan very much. He is one of the great pioneers of the Church in Thailand. What a remarkable journey of a true seeker of truth, one that has taken great courage. I admire Mani and Nadda so very much.

- Alan H. Hess - One of the first six missionaries to Thailand 1968

Monday, October 14, 2013

Transfer Week Dinner

Elders Omer, Unsworth, Smith, and Watkins
The dynamics of our little missionary group will change this week with transfers on Thursday. We took the elders to the Pizza Company in the mall for the farewell dinner. It was all quite yummy. It was fun to hear them speculate where they would next serve. We will miss Elders Omer and Unsworth! Elders Smith and Watkins will receive new companions.

A Week Late, but Uplifting

Members gather to hear
conference in Thai

RS pres showing her good mood.

Our youth love being together.
Yes, a week later than the rest of the you, Thailand watched conference on Saturday and Sunday--( The translation department in Bangkok works fast and furiously to complete the translations in a week so that the wards and branches do not have to wait to hear it.)

Elders Watkins, Unsworth, Sowards, Omer, and Smith celebrating
the Sowards' after-Priesthood-meeting DQ tradition

We watched Sat. morning's sessions from 10 to noon, and 1 PM to 3, and then the priesthood session from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. We showed the translated general Relief Society meeting at the same time we did the priesthood broadcast. So we had 6 hours of conference in a 7.5 hours span! 

On Sunday we showed sessions at 10 and 1 PM. Between the two general sessions on both days, the members provided a potluck lunch. Joan and I contributed strawberry Jell-O with bananas, and did it go fast. 

I missed going to DQ with our sons (as it is our tradition after Priesthood meeting.) There are two DQ’s in Ayutthaya but the full-time missionaries were busy after the sessions. We took them on Monday to make up for it. 

-E. Sowards

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Creative Dragon Sculpture

Here is a fun dragon sculpture we found today. I wish I could get the pictures to line up so you can see the enormity of it. Two three-headed dragons snake around the building and their heads meet in the middle of the pond. I think there is a walkway from the bridge to the heads, but the bridge was flooded so this is as close as we could get. Click on each picture to enlarge.

Thailand's Water Monitor

Water Monitors are common in Thailand and are a protected species.  This is a small one we saw by the road. They can get up to five feet in length. They generally are harmless, but are considered a nuisance because they eat the fish from the ponds people depend on for food.

I have often heard them called crocodiles-- "crocodi" by the residents. Thailand does have true crocodiles.

Just a fun tidbit.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Flowers, Mission Reunion, and Sister Jutarat Leaves for MTC

On our return to Ayutthaya, we found new flowers planted in our front yard. Several members (about half the branch) had cut the grass and added to the landscape of our yard during our absence. Such kindness!

There has been flooding in our area, and 4 members' homes have been flooded. Only one has had to move to another house. We've heard that 1500 members in Cambodia have been flooded out.

Joan and I attended a Thai mission reunion in Bangkok. It was actually for native Thais and residents who have served missions, but the current senior couples were invited too. It was wonderful to see many missionaries from different mission president eras – many of those mission presidents were missionaries from my mission. I wish they all could have been here to see the fruits of their efforts. At one point I realized I was the oldest Thai mission RM there. That was sobering! They had asked the senior couples to sing a special number we had about 5 minutes of practice. They assumed that we all sing well. Joan does and so do our mission president and wife. The rest of the men could not even read music. President Senior asked Joan what parts people were singing, she answered,  "You will sing tenor, and the rest sing monotone."

On Sunday our branch sent off a missionary, Sister Jutarat, to the Sidney Australia North mission. She first goes to the Provo MTC to learn English. She had her "opportunity to speak in church" aka farewell, last Sunday. But since yesterday was Fast Sunday, many members shared special experiences they had with her. She has been the branch activity chair, a branch missionary and seminary teacher – all at the same time. (FYI- it was Fast Sunday here and we will watch general conference next week.) 

Group that came to be with Sister Jutarat as
she is set apart to leave on her mission.
Sister Jutarat was set apart by President Senior in Bangkok in the evening. About 20 members of the branch made the hour and 1/2 trip in a van to be there with her. We drove down, too. Her family has never come to one church event in the 10 years she has been a member, but they came to see her set apart. She flew out early this morning--by herself--her first flight, to LA then SLC. She speaks some English and is going where few speak Thai. I can imagine her fear, but she is going in faith. She will see snow for the first time. 

To explain the love the members have for Sister Jutarat: they did not return from Bangkok until about 8 PM, some still had another hour on motorcycles to get home in pouring rain. This sister is the best member we could send on a mission now. I hope seeing her go will inspire many of our youth to serve in the next few years when they are old enough.
-Elder Sowards
Sister Jutarat's family. She is holding the baby.

Returning to Thailand

Returning to Thailand was not as easy as coming. Not because we left loved ones, that is always hard. 

Our flight from Phoenix to San Francisco was delayed just enough that we missed the once a day flight to Tokyo. Actually we almost made it, but it took 20 minutes to get the jetway to our plane in SF. We rushed through the airport to the new gate only to see them push the plane away. There were 8 of us going, and one man had ran the whole way and arrived as they shut the door. They knew we were on a late flight and could have waited an extra 10 – 15 minutes for us. I have often been on flights that waited. To add insult to injury, they said the delay was totally weather related so no free overnight. Waiting for them to open the door of the plane from Phoenix was not weather but human caused! We asked to retrieve our luggage so we could have a change of clothes. They said Okay, but we may have to wait up to 2 hours to get it. My bag came within an hour. But after 6 hours of “fun” waiting at the airport, Joan's finally came when an employee personally went back to the international baggage area and brought it to us (after the 10th time we requested.) Airline representatives had told us repeatedly that it was coming. Customer service at United was an oxymoron.  
Von wearing the tie his aunt Joyce
knitted for him to wear at his reception

The good part of the stay was that we were able to go to dinner with Robert and Chris Fonnesbeck. He is a Thai return missionary, and both are our great friends.

We did catch the next day’s flight. It was a long 10 hours to Tokyo, a 4-hour layover and then 6 hours to Bangkok. We were bushed! We took a taxi to where our car was parked at the Bangkok Church office building, and then drove the 1.5 hours home to Ayutthaya, arriving at about 12:30 AM.

-Elder Sowards

(Joan's note:)
My sisters and I attend the RS Women Broadcast
l-r Tammy Duthie, Joan Sowards, Kathy Willson
Peggy Glass, LeeAnne Whitaker
Going home was a good experience. The whole time I felt AWOL, though we had all the permission to leave that we needed. It was good to see our family, meet our new grandson for the first time, be with Von and Jordan on their wedding day (I would have always regretted missing it), spending time with my siblings-- but it is time to get back to missionary life. It also taught me that missions go fast! We are already 1/3 of the way through our 18 months. Amazing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Son is Married!

Our son Von married his sweetheart, Jordan Palmer, on September 27, 2013 in the Mesa, AZ temple. We were able to go home to be with him. It was a beautiful ceremony and reception. That Sunday, we attended our new grandson's baby blessing. It was great to visit and very refreshing. Maybe all senior couples should go home once during their mission for a refresher. We are now back in Ayutthaya and ready to work.

Jordan Palmer
Von and Jordan
Getting back to Thailand was not as easy of a trip as was the trip to Arizona. Our flight to San Francisco was delayed and we missed our connection to Tokyo by only minutes. In fact, as we ran through the airport we could see the jet pulling away from the dock. Ack! We had to reschedule our flight, waited six hours at the luggage carousel for my suitcase (Dennis' came right away,) had to spend the night at a very nice Westin Hotel at our own expense, and then take the same flight on the Tokyo in the morning. I  (Joan) survived the trip to Tokyo, but the flight to Bangkok was a killer. My ankles swelled and I stood for the last hour trying to revive them.

We are glad to be back in Ayutthaya. Pray for us and our four elders, that the work will go forward, that our branch will grow, and our members will be strengthened in the Gospel.

Alaska's snow covered peaks on our return trip home.