Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Another Great Week

Sounds like everything is going really well back home. Sounds like it has been pretty cold there lately. I can't imagine temperatures below 70 degrees anymore... I am probably going to get cold easier than mom when I get back. 

The answer about Christmas lights is yes. There are actually a lot of Christmas lights out and about. There is even a huge Christmas- tree -shaped formation of lights near the big Catholic chapel here. I don't know anything about a lot of other Christmas traditions, but I will let you know if I experience any.

It has been a pretty good week, and we are super close to having a baptism on the 21st of December. The name of the family is the B family. We will just be baptizing two of the daughters  who are 11 and  12.  We found them through a somewhat less active member, who is like their grand-uncle or something like that. He is really great, he is even endowed and has a super strong testimony of the church.  They actually live in the same house, so we always get a member present when we teach them. They have had some trouble getting to church in the past because they live kind of far from the church, and they don't have a lot of money for their pamasahe (I can't think of an English word for that...), but they will be ready for baptism if they come to church this week, and I would be really surprised if they didn't come this week.

One more story for this week. I got to meet another normal American. He served here in Libmanan in 1983ish. He doesn't know any Tagalog. He came here and visited a lot of the people he taught while he was here, and got a few of our less actives to come to sacrament meeting. He is actually really good friends with Sister C, and his son is serving in the mission where Elder Acidera is from (Laoag). Elder Acidera has actually met his son. Isn't it such a small world sometimes? Another crazy part of this story is that as we walked to Sister C's house, where we were going to meet this guy for the first time, Elder Acidera was telling me how he needs a vial for consecrated oil. It just so happened that this guy had brought some extra oil vials for us. Isn't that amazing?

I thought of something else. I have actually had the opportunity to give a lot of blessings for the sick while I've been here. It is really neat to be able to serve people in this way. I have seen so many people benefit from the power of the priesthood here. It makes me want to always be worthy to be able to help others with the priesthood. 

I love you guys! 

Elder Benjamin Merrill

Monday, December 2, 2013


My Tagalog is coming along pretty well.   I've actually learned a decent amount of Bikolano too.

We got three investigators at church this week! It was so wonderful that they were all able to be there. It is sometimes hard for Edmond to go to church, because he often has to ride the skates by himself. Sometimes his older sister is able to go with him though. The other two just don't have money sometimes, I guess. We feel pretty confident though that we will be able to have a baptism on the 21st of December.

So, I think it is time for the Thanksgiving story. We didn't get a single key indicator on Thanksgiving. We just got punted over and over again. We did hand out a few pamphlets, but none of our planned appointments were there/available when we tried... I was probably the most tired I have been in my entire life that day. We decided to visit Sister C before we went home though, and we talked to her for a little while, but we couldn't really teach her because wala kaming kasama na lalaki. We needed another male member with us. We decided that we should go get some bulastog ( hard-boiled chicken egg dipped in orange-tinted batter and fried in hot oil), because it is super delicious. As we started to eat our food, this old lady with pigtails came up and started speaking crazy English to us. I accidentally left without paying for my bulastog because I wanted to get away from her. I did pay for it the next day though. My companion thinks it is so funny every time I say, "I stole an egg."

My cold is almost gone now, which is nice. It certainly decided to hang around for a long time. 

It is the wet season right now, which means it is a little cooler. (It still seems pretty hot to me for the most part. I am a little worried about how hot the rest of the year is going to be :P) 

That is about all I have for this week. We did buy some ice cream at 7-11 yesterday. Pretty interesting flavors... Mango and Cashews, and Ube keso (keso means cheese) pretty good, but I don't really like the cheese one that much... Ube is that purple flavor, I think it is like yam or something.

I love you tons and miss you too!

Elder Ben Merrill

Thanksgiving Day Sprite

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Things are going well this week. I hear that they (all the missionaries) are all ok now. I hope that is true. It was a crazy storm.  I think we ( in our mission) will just stick to our regular work for the most part.

Here is a little about Sister R who we are meeting with.   The other day we went over to visit Sister R to ask about another sister who is in Legazpi right now. She told us about how she has a lot of siblings (I think they are all sisters), but how none of them are members and how she really wants to share the gospel with them. She talked to us about how, even though she is the only one of her siblings who is disabled (she is almost completely blind and always needs one of her kids with her to guide her around), but that she really is the lucky one, because she has the true gospel in her life. It is really humbling to me that she can have the perspective that she does about life. I am so thankful that I was able to meet her here. 

Last week at church we had the primary program. I thought I would mention it, because it really was pretty great. The primary program was pretty much the same here as it is anywhere. Plenty of screaming, singing, and everything else. They actually did it almost all in English, so that was cool too. The only thing they didn't do in English was the last song. Yesterday we had Branch conference, so it was a regular day at church.

We had dinner at the branch president's house this week too (I think it is a last week of the transfer tradition). We had pancit and chicken curry. It reminds me so much of the chicken curry that we used to eat at home. The food here really isn't that different from what we used to eat at home (at least when we had rice) They just eat rice with chicken, vegetables, pork, or fish on top. The branch president has a super cute baby named Nigel.

We also went on exchanges with Elder Sorensen and Elder Kaumaitotoya this week, so that was pretty cool too. 

I love you tons, and I miss you so much!

Elder Benjamin Merrill

                                                        Ben on a "tricy", a motorcyle-like taxi.
                                                         Ben's district
                                                      Riding a jeepney to Naga

Friday, November 15, 2013


We had a typhoon. The power in our barangay was out all day, and we had to stay inside all day. I felt really lazy. The storm really wasn't too bad in our area, fortunately. We just lost power for ~40hours, which was actually pretty rough. Everything was back to normal as soon as they got the power back on in our part of town.  The storm hit much harder down far south of us though. I really hope that no more people get hurt. It sounds like there has been a lot of flooding, and that very few buildings are even still standing.

This week was a pretty good week. We had a CSP (community service project) on Tuesday. We pulled out like a million weeds from someone's field, so they could use it for farming again. We actually used machetes, or what they call 'itak's to do it, so that was kind of cool.

The work here has been good this week too, except for the bagyo of course. We have been teaching Edmond a lot, but he is living kind of far from the church now. He didn't come this week, which was really dissapointing. However, one of our other investigators that we were having a really hard time getting to church actually came this week which was really amazing. We are probably going to visit him tomorrow to find out how he liked it (and why his sister didn't come). 

We also had a trainer/trainee workshop, which was kind of cool. We taught one of the AP's for one of our practice lessons, and it actually went really well. I feel pretty confident about my Tagalog when it comes to the lessons (especially the first few), but I feel like I am still very lacking in Tagalog skills when it comes to everyday situations. I think it will all come with time. 

I thought I should tell you about a few of my  favorite things that I have eaten here. There is sinigang(sp) which is like soup kind of, but you put it on rice. It is kind of sourish, and it has pork and vegetables like asparagus in it. Also, siopao is really good. It is like those little bao things from Costco, except way better. They are like little toasted rolls, filled with delicious meat of some sort (probably pork) and a hard boiled egg.  Soy sauce and rice has in a way become my bread and butter.

Not too many dull moments here. It is really great. Even the haircuts are an experience. My schedule keeps me really busy too. We get up at 6:30 and then have time until 8 to get ready for the day, exercise, and eat breakfast. We then have an hour of language study and an hour of personal study. At 10 we leave the apartment and proselyte until we return to the house at 12 for lunch and then companion study from 1-3. We then proselyte from 3 until 7:30ish at which time we go back to the apartment for dinner and planning. We then have from about 9:30 to 10:30 to write in our journals or get stuff ready for the next day. We sleep at 10:30 and then start the next day. It really is going by fast already.

Sorry, this letter is going to have to be kind of short. 

I love you guys all so much!

Elder Benjamin Merrill
  Ben on a "skate," which moves on railroad tracks.

Sister Edna, the lady who cooks for the missionaries, her kids and Elder Acidera.
Ben by the railroad tracks.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Oct 28, 2013

I don't know where to start, so much great stuff this week... We have 3 baptismal dates now. We found a lot of people through member referrals this week. The baptismal dates were for Nov 30, but none of them came to church, so we are going to have to move it back at least a week. (Our investigators have to come to church four times without missing 2 consecutive weeks in order to get baptized here.) I think I am going to start with the reason why I had to email so late today.

So this morning Elder Acidera (my kasama), after he is getting towards the end of doing his laundry, calls out "Elder Merrill, come here!" (or something along those lines.) I figure he wants to show me something about doing laundry, but when I get out there, there is blood dripping down his face. (He had bumped into the iron roof and cut himself on it.) I really had no idea where I could go, or really what to do, but Sister Edna (who is a member) comes out and quickly cleans Elder Acidera up, and then all three of us get on a padyak (kind of like a bike with a side car) and we go to the hospital where he gets stitched up and then gets three or so shots. (There was also a random orange cat just walking around the hospital.)  Now he is ok and everything is back to normal. (Except for the fact that we have to go get his bandage changed everyday now I think.) It made for a really crazy pday... We finished our laundry and then ate some 7-11 hot dogs, and now we are emailing.  

The jeepney rides are great. We actually had a mission tour this week (where the area president or someone like that comes and visits.) We had Elder Ardern(sp) come visit. It was decent, but the reason I bring it up was because I got to ride to the Pamplona chapel on the back of a jeepney, holding on for dear life for at least a good 45 minutes. It was awesome. 

The pictures are great! I love the costumes and the mustache. It looks like the Halloween party was a blast. For our Halloween, we get to stay in our apartment starting at 6pm... . 

I hope you aren't too disappointed to find out about this, but we actually sing all of our hymns in English at church.   Speaking of singing, I actually got to be the chorister for the branch this last week. I'm not really sure why, but almost everyone was really late to church this week.

No balut yet.  The weather has actually been pretty near perfect this week (a little hot, but not bad), and we have fans to point directly at us while we sleep, so the weather hasn't been too much of a problem fortunately. 

About my haircut... I am having some trouble getting my pics to upload, so you might have to wait until next week when I have a faster connection before you get to see my haircut. I think it is pretty nice. We ended up having to go to a salon to get our haircuts. There was no room at any of the regular barber shops... I got my hair cut by a bakla. He had his hair up in a bun and half of it was dyed red. He did a good job though, so I guess that is what really matters. Just quite the experience, and they were blasting Filipino Christmas music the whole time (all of the classic Christmas music we listen to in America, just in Tagalog). 

We actually just visited Sister C again yesterday, and she said she had been praying for us to come over. It was really neat. She wanted to give us the names of a few other inactive members that we should visit. I think they are in the other elders' area though. Sometimes it almost seems like she isn't really inactive.   Yes, and we have quite a few investigators now, so I have had an opportunity to teach about four or so lessons to investigators.    

It just started raining... (I'm wearing sandals...)

I have to tell you about the skates now. I got that railroad picture when I took the skates to go to Edmond's house. (Turns out he was at his cousin's house, but that's ok, because we still found him that night.) The skates are like these little carts that run on the railroad. They cram like a million people onto them, just like the jeepneys. They are really cool though, because they take you out into the middle of nowhere. I got a lot of cool pics that I can't send because of the connection... 

A few more cultural type things: I have seen an infinite number of Kobe Bryant jerseys here. They love the NBA. I also heard Hansen's MMMBop playing really extremely loud as we were walking through the city the other day, and I have seen a lot of Yankees, A's and Raiders hats. I also hear Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon on a regular basis. 

The work is really going a lot better now. We have a lot of investigators, as well as many other people that we have met/ received referrals to go meet that we are going to go teach.  I can't believe that three of our investigators said yes to baptism already.  I got to be the one to commit them (and in Tagalog). We are in the middle of teaching a fourth investigator, Cherry, who is  40. (It isn't rude to ask people their ages here.) We are definitely going to go back, because I think she is pretty interested. We also contacted an older sister who was a referral, and we have two other older sisters that we have given pamphlets to and have appointments to go teach this week. I am really excited. This is Edmond( on the left) and his friend.

One more thing, every morning as we walk into town, and usually when we come back home, (our apartment is a little bit out of the way, which is nice), all of the kids come up to us and say "Brothers!" and we give them high-fives. (When you give a high-five here, you say "Up here!") It always makes my day.

Let me know if there is anything you would like to know more about.

Marai na bangui,
Mahal ko kayo!
Elder Benjamin Merrill

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 20, 2013


Did I till you that we are opening an area? We met one really old guy (83 years old) who told us all about this set of what looked like children's books about anatomy.  And then told us to leave. (He was polite, but he still told us to leave. He said something like "please excuse me" and then waved us away.) We asked him if he thought that God's word was important and he said not really. We then asked him what was important to him and he said money... That is when he asked us to leave.  We also have another family who is always too busy, so we haven't gotten to do anything but say hello to them... We have taught a lot of lessons to recent converts and to less actives. 

I have not had balut yet, but I probably will have to eat it at some point... The food here is actually really good though (I've actually heard that balut is too.) I actually ate some fish this week... It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my favorite.  The zone leaders actually arranged for the sister next door to cook for us, so that is good, because we don't know how to cook, and she really knows how to cook.  She has made fried chicken for us, really good noodles, spaghetti, and chicken curry that tastes just like the kind you make at home. You eat here either with a spoon in your right hand and a fork in your left, or just with your hands.  It is pretty freeing to eat rice with one's hands.  The 7-11 hot dogs are really pretty good, but I don't think we will be eating them that often anymore because Sister Edna is cooking for us now :) She is really nice. We had the noodles and the spaghetti for breakfast (on separate days of course.) The ligaya bread is great, I actually just ate some for breakfast today.  It is probably just sugar, water, red food coloring, and maybe they do something to it... I'm not really sure.  

I think everyone at least speaks a little English, but I will definitely have to learn Tagalog.  I think my language skills have improved a lot since we got here.  I feel like pretty much the only thing I can do is teach the lessons though...

 It gets sooooo hot, but when it rains, it is soooooo nice.  They play Christmas music at the mall and just around and about here... It is kinda weird. We do have a washing machine :) It doesn't always do such a great job, but it is not bad.  You still have to rinse the clothes off when they're done... but it's pretty nice.  My companion and I are going to go get a haircut today, so that should be interesting.  I will try to send a pic next week... We have actually seen a lot of baklas around, so that is pretty weird... I am bringing this up because, I guess many of the haircut places are run by them, but we know that the one we are going to today is not. 

The tabo is really not a problem at all for me anymore... It is just... what you do here. 

I am pretty sure we don't have an address here. I know that the name of our barangay (I think that is how you spell it) is Bigajo Sur.  That is the closest thing that I can give you to an address.  I think I would just appreciate a dear elder here or there through the mission office if that's ok.  

They love the NBA here.  It seems like just about everyone is a Lakers fan :/ I have seen a near infinite number of Kobe Bryant jerseys here.  And not to mention 3 Che Guevara shirts (weird, right?) I saw a Mr. Bean t-shirt too, and our neighbor was actually watching Mr. Bean too, which made me happy. I also saw a Be The Reds t-shirt.  

We get our support money at the mall.  The mall here is so awesome, it is almost like being back home in an American mall. There are just no recognizable brands at the mall here. I bought some shoes.  They are rubber or plastic or something, and they have no backs on them.  (I had to get the ones with no backs on them like all of the other Americans do because they only go up to size 10). I am told that they will stretch out as I wear them more.  After we got our support money at the mall, we went to a really cool restaurant where you order chicken and they give you unlimited rice.  (and for just around 100 pesos). It is about 42 pesos to a dollar, I think, but most things are really cheap still. It was really good. 

One of the less active families we visited had like 5 tiny puppies and they were all cuddled together in a ball sleeping. It was so cute.  I probably should have taken a picture.  I bet Daisy is doing much better now. I don't know how you managed to get everyone to stop feeding her wheat.   

I think I will tell you about one of the less active sisters we have been visiting. Her name is Sister C, and she hasn't been to church in around six years.  I think she is in her early 60s.  She is so sweet, and the last time we came over she asked for me to share the message because I must be special because Heavenly Father sent me here to her all the way from America.  Her English is really good, but I shared the message in Tagalog.  I think she actually used to be an English teacher.  We have another investigator of similar age named Josefina, who hasn't been to church in about the same amount of time. She shared with us her testimony of Joseph Smith (even mostly in English), and she even cried. It was amazing, but I think it will be a while before she will come back (that is actually what she told us). Usually, we also have a family home evening about once a week where we invite all the youth to come, but they have to bring a less active or non-member friend.  We are having ours tomorrow, on Tuesday. We start with a prayer and a song, then someone shares a spiritual thought and then we play a crazy game, one of which involved flower and hard candies. I will send more pics maybe next week when I get them from Elder Sorenson.

I love you guys tons and I miss you guys sooooo much.
Elder Benjamin Merrill

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14, 2013--Made It to the Philippines!


So I don't know anything about any typhoons... It rained off and on a little for the first few days, but there haven't been any big storms or anything.  So... I used the tabo for the first time this morning, It was definitely something different.  

I think the sketchiest thing that I have eaten here is a smoky bacon hot dog from 7-11. It was quite good (I have actually had three of them, but on separate days). The other elders want me to eat baloot today, but we will see about that...  I had what was basically chicken ramen for breakfast today, so that wasn't bad. We usually have noodles or rice with chicken, but more often than that, we eat at the 7-11 (They have good hot dogs and a 15 peso ice cream cone). There are so many dogs that are just around people's houses and stuff. They make me think of Daisy, but they always look really sad like they aren't treated very well. When we had our district meeting we ate at this little restaurant, and they actually had burgers (it seems like a lot of places do around here.) I ordered spaghetti, however, because I do not know how to tell them about all of the toppings I don't want on my burger...

My trainer is from the Ilocos Norte province of the Philippines.  His name is Elder Acidera.  He himself has just been trained, but fortunately, he is really on the ball and speaks Tagalog already.  He is really nice, and like just about everyone else, he speaks English. It is really funny, when people hear me struggling with my Tagalog, they just start speaking English. I even taught a lesson in English... My area is called Libmanan (Libmanan A actually). We live in the same apartment with the elders who are assigned to Libmanan B. They are Elder Sorenson and Elder Kaumaitotoya from Utah and Fiji. They are all really cool. Elder Sorenson has been out for like a year and a few months (he is our district leader), and Elder Kaumaitotoya came from the Manila MTC at the same time as I came from the Provo MTC. We have actually only taught one lesson so far (it was to a member), because we spent most of the day on Friday traveling to a district meeting, at the district meeting, and traveling home from the district meeting (by jeepney I might add). We then spent all day Saturday and Sunday at/ traveling to and from General Conference. That's right, I got to watch it twice! I got more out of it the second time than I thought I would.  Tonight we have plans to visit some less active members and some recent converts.   

I have some really good pictures to send you too. I think I will probably have to send them in a separate email, so I will do that in a bit.  There are a few of the apartment, which is, I'm told, one of the nicest in the mission (We have a washing machine!!!), and some of us riding on the top of a jeepney to get back from conference.  What I've learned about jeepneys is that there is always more room on them.  They will put stools in the middle aisle and put a wooden plank across the back, and let people hold on to the back and even ride on top like we did.  I really enjoy riding in them nonetheless, and it seems like a good place to find people to teach. 

I haven't been yet, but there is what they call the Super Mall in Naga, and apparently it is like being in America, so I am excited for that.  We will probably go next Monday, which is pday, but I guess it is Sunday back home.  I think if I came and emailed earlier then we would be able to have somewhat of a conversation. It is about three o' clock here. We are actually emailing from this little net cafe called Louie's Nook Net Cafe. They have these kind of places all over.  Apparently, the people here are really into games like World of Warcraft and stuff like that.  

It is really hot here when it doesn't rain.  It hasn't rained since Saturday (I still don't know anything about a typhoon...), and so it is pretty warm out... I think I am starting to get used to being really, really sweaty all of the time. It really seems like a different planet here.  It is weird.  It always has a jungly smell, kind of like how I remember it smelling in Nigeria. (Jungly probably isn't a word, but hopefully you know what I mean.) There is also a guy who comes by our little back road area every morning usually between 5:30 and 6:30 am to sell his pandasal/pandesal bread.  He has a horn that he honks when he comes by that always wakes everyone up. None of us have tried his bread yet, but I guess we just don't want to encourage him.  We do like to eat at the Atlantic Bakery. I like to get maligaya bread (which means happy bread). It is like a roll with sweet red stuff inside, it is pretty good. I am in the process of trying all of the different things they have still.  

What is really strange to me here still is when you go by someone's tiny little run-down house and they are blasting American pop music or watching TV.  I think almost everyone has a TV, or at least a radio.  I have heard a lot of pop music just walking around and in some of the jeepneys. I really hope I can get used to it here quickly. Most say the first week is the worst and then I will be used to it by the time my first month is over.  

Hopefully you enjoy the pics.  If you have any questions about what is in them, let me know, because it was going to take too long to put writing in the email with the pics. It is going to be really awesome when I get to show you around here in a few years.  We will probably get a lot of "Hey, Joe!"s. That is what they say when they see someone white... I usually get one or two every day. I finally understand the name of that food truck.  

I love you all so much, and I miss you tons!
Until next week,
Elder Benjamin Merrill

October 5, 2013

We just walked to the main campus for conference, it is like 33 degrees here... so cold... Somehow I still managed to sweat like crazy underneath my jacket.   I don't know why they aren't showing it at the West campus anywhere... The west campus is pretty cool though.  We get to go to a few of the restaurants in this little strip mall nearby. There is a Jamba Juice, a burger place, a subzero ice cream, and a few other places that I probably will never eat at because we are leaving.  I am pretty nervous for the traveling, but it will probably be ok, right? Thank you so much for all of the packages too. I love the shoes and they seem like they fit really well. 

I'm not really sure what time I am going to call, especially because I don't have my travel plans with me right now... It will probably be in the morning around 9 UTAH time... I'm not really sure what else to do about timing.  Dad gave me some great tips about traveling overseas though.  I can't believe all of the pickpockets there must be everywhere else... I will definitely keep my real wallet in my pouch, but I don't have an extra fake wallet... I am going to try and email a bunch of pics that we took with our teachers and stuff next and then I will probably email again between sessions of conference. 

I hope you got the pics. We are getting ready to watch the next session of general conference right now.  I think the first session this morning was one of the best experiences I've ever had watching conference. I miss watching it with everyone at home, but for a little while, it almost felt like I was.  My favorite talk was one given by President Uchtdorf that was basically an invitation for those who are falling away/ have fallen away from the church for them to come back... He talked about all of the wonderful things that the church does, and how many things that members are asked to do and how they still do them.  There was one quote that stuck out a lot for me in the talk. It was something like "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith." 

Being a zone leader has been really a neat thing actually.  We started doing a devotional with the whole zone every night before quiet time starts.  We usually just pick someone to share a scripture (maybe their favorite) and talk about it. Our teachers showed us some pictures of the Philippines, (they both went to the San Pablo mission, the one right to the west of the Naga mission) and it is, as Brother Lopez says, quite 'ghetto'. It looks so amazing. I guess I will be walking through miles and miles and I should probably add miles through rice fields. It is going to be so wonderful.  Sobrang excited ako! I have to admit that I am still nervous about the food, but other than that, everything should be good.

Thank you so much for all of the pictures, everyone thinks they are really cool, and Elder Atchley was actually born in Santa Monica, so I think he will appreciate the pic in front of the pier.  I'm so thankful for such a wonderful, supportive family back home.

Mahal ko kayo,
Elder Benjamin Merrill

Monday, September 30, 2013

September 28, 2013

Pamilya ko,

We moved to the other MTC this week.  As to why they moved us, I think they just wanted more room at the main campus... They moved all of the missionaries who are going to the Philippines to the west campus, but I wish they would have waited a few more weeks.  The west campus isn't too bad, but in our room, we have twelve elders, but only two bathrooms. It can get pretty crazy.  I think the food is actually better at this campus though.  I am so ready to go to the Philippines!!   

In unrelated news, my kasama and I just got asked to be zone leaders, so that should be pretty interesting.  We will be getting to know all of the elders in our zone.  Did  I tell you that there are two Tagalog zones?  There are also one or two Cebuano speaking zones.  Isn't that a lot of missionaries going to the Philippines?

Do you remember Josh Wuthrich?  He was in my seminary class before Dad started teaching because he went to Hamilton Prep.  He moved to China when the Ethingtons moved to China, and now he is at the MTC.  He is going to Mandarin speaking NYC South.  Isn't that cool?  Do you remember Danny McCurdy? He is going to Independence Missouri and is from our stake in Chandler. He is here at the West Campus, so I got to see him, which is awesome.

We got our travel plans on Thursday. I will try to send a more detailed email later if I can, but we are flying from Salt Lake to Portland, then Portland to Japan (I think the name of the place in Japan starts with an N), and then from there to Manila. I am not sure exactly how we get to Naga. All I know is that it requires a ticket because of the email from president Reeder. I think we have 9 days until we are out of here. (Our first flight leaves around 11:30 on Monday).Maybe I will try to call home from Portland. I left my camera and my travel plans back at the residence, so I will definitely try to send another email later.  

I think I should tell you about the Zone Leader traditions that our zone has.  There are a few items that are passed down from zone leaders to zone leaders. These include: A toaster that all of the zone leaders sign, matching ties that all of the zone leaders sign, the sword of Laban, and the hammer of Nephi.

 Here is a funny thing about the Philippines. People who work at places (I don't know how to word this exactly) are trained to call people ma'amsir, just in case they might offend someone, because apparently there are a lot of transvestites etc sa Pilipinas... (But not after I convert them all.) Isn't that wild?

In somewhat unrelated news, I love Tagalog. I can't believe how fast we are learning it here. It really is a very neat language, and it actually reminds me somewhat of Toki Pona (The artificial language that we used to have some fun with in German class), because you can make verbs into nouns and vice versa and all sorts of similar things.  I can't wait to be in the Philippines. (Though it might take longer for your letters to come).  

Mahal ko po kayo!

Elder Benjamin Merrill

Monday, September 23, 2013

More from the MTC

Kumusta kayo?

How is everyone? On the 24th, we are going to move to the West campus...so that should be interesting.  I do not yet have my west campus address... I think I might get it on Monday.  I will let you know as soon as I can.  I think you can probably keep sending stuff to the same address. 

I hope things are going ok back home.  

We heard some crazy stories from Brother Lopez about the Philippines, and one thing from Brother Mace. Brother Mace still has clothes that he had made for him in the Philippines, and you can get custom made clothes really cheap there, but I bet Dad already knew that.  Here is one of Brother Lopez's stories about a spider.  There are gigantic spiders (like the size of my fist or maybe slightly smaller) pretty much all over. They mostly just eat mosquitoes and leave humans alone. Brother Lopez calls them house spiders.  Long story short, he and his native companion are eating at a concrete table and this huge spider goes up on the table and gives birth to like a million spider babies who crawl all over the food and stuff. The companion isn't even phased, and continues to eat the food, while Brother Lopez jumps back and lets out a short scream... Sounds nuts, right?  Also,  I just remembered, if you want to see what Brother Mace looks like, search Charlie Mace on mormon.org.  I am pretty sure he is the only one who pops up.  His introduction says something about making films, owning a small business, and long boarding, if I remember correctly.

I think I will be able to eat most of the stuff that I will be served in the Philippines.  We were talking to Brother Lopez, and he said that the only thing that he does't like is dinuguan (blood pudding with innards).  I think I might have trouble with that... Brother Lopez says it is really sour.

So I met another Elder Merrill. He is going to somewhere in South America, I think. We haven't had the opportunity to see an apostle yet, mostly just people from the seventy. I just finished Elder Ballard's book, Our Search for Happiness. I thought it was really good.  The chocolate covered cinnamon bears were awesome, too.  They were actually the entire contents of the welcome package that Mark had for me. 

There is  an elder from Bozeman, Montana, in my zone (He is just two computers down from me right now.) He is super cool just like almost all of the elders in my zone.

 So much great stuff here :) Here are a couple of pictures.  There is one with about half of the group that I play four square with during gym, and the other is of Luke and me.  

I am super excited, two (and maybe a half) weeks to Naga!!

Makal ko kayo!

Elder Benjamin Merrill

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mahal ko Tagalog!

Kumusta po kayo, Pamiliya ko?

Mahal ko Tagalog!  (I LOVE Tagalog) It is almost as great as English :P It is like they pretty much wanted to make the language really simple. I think what can make it hard to learn is just how different it is from English.  I saw Luke yesterday or Thursday, and that was pretty cool :) (All of the days really blend together... We actually just had two districts in our zone leave on Monday, but it seems like it was forever ago.) I still miss you guys so much, but I feel confident that I am where I am supposed to be.  

Our district has the BEST teachers at the MTC.  I don't know if you remember my first investigator, Felix, but the teacher that played him, Brother Mace is actually a convert and he told us a really neat story about his conversion.  It turns out that he actually is/was Felix.  His parents were always very anti-religion, but he had a best friend who was a member all through high school. His friend was always telling him about the church, and he (Brother Mace) often shared anti-Mormon literature/stuff/etc. with his friend.  One day after a church youth basketball game that his friend invited him to, he went up to his friend's step-father who reffed the game and told him that he had done a good job.  The ref said "Would you like to serve a mission, I'll pay for it?" And this completely shocked Brother Mace.  Brother Mace ended up staying in the gym at that church for like half an hour after the game was over and that's when he knew that there is a God. Isn't that amazing? And so he served a mission in the Philippines San Pablo mission (next to Naga, I think).

 It really is so neat to be here, although I can't wait to get into the field.  I got an email today from President and Sister Reeder who said a few things about the mission, including how we will be flying to Naga from Manila (Can you believe there is an airport in Naga??). I apologize that I don't remember all of the questions you guys asked me in your letters, I put down everything I want to email home about in a notebook, but I forgot the notebook today... oops.  

Jessie's party sounds like it was off of the hook.  I can't believe all the presents! I'd also like to say thanks for all of the packages you have sent me :) I hope that you didn't have to take out a second mortgage on the house to send them to me :P I will maybe try to get a letter on its way to Chandler with more interesting stuff in it.  I wish I had remembered my notebook. 

It has been raining here almost every day this week, and it has been so wonderful! I also found out that they have mosquito nets in most of the missionary apartments in the Philippines now too, so that will be super nice.  I really am so excited to teach real people and to experience a new culture. I am especially excited to ride on a Jeepney.  It is going to be sooooo great.  To answer mom's question about how often I can get on a computer on pday, we can really email whenever we want, and as many times as we want, but we are only supposed to email for one hour.  It used to be 30 minutes, but for some reason, they changed it.  I usually email while my laundry is in the wash, and it looks like my clothes are done, so I will have to continue in a letter or email next week. Thank you so much for all of the letters. They really make my day every day :)
Mahal ko po kayo!!
Elder Benjamin Merrill  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Life in the MTC

Magandang araw!

We finally started doing some grammar... It is a pretty different grammatical structure from English.  They use markers in Tagalog like I've heard that they do in Korean.  Does Korean have focus? They told us that people used to have to be in the MTC for 9 weeks to learn Tagalog, but they somewhat recently switched it to 6 weeks. 

First, my schedule.  We get up at 6:30, get to our classroom around 7:05, study a little and then we go to breakfast. At 8:00 we either take turns teaching an investigator or have class until 11:00. At 11:00 we have personal study until lunch at 12:10 (I feel like all we do is sit and eat :P). Then we have language study from 12:55 until 2:10 when we have more class until dinner at 5:10. We use the time between dinner and gym to get changed. Then gym from 6:20 until 7:10. We then have until 7:50 to get showered and back to a computer lab to do TALL (technology assisted language learning) which ends at 8:50. Then we take about half an hour to plan the next day and go to the residence at 9:30 where we have an hour of personal time before bed. That is our Monday Wednesday schedule. Tuesdays are different because we have devotionals on Tuesday nights, and then things are just in a slightly different order on Thursday and Friday, and then Saturday is P-day and Sunday we have church (almost all day...). Pretty exciting, (and a total run on) right.

Actually, I love my companion!    I think it would be so great if you came to the Philippines. I am just going to let you know that there is no toilet paper in my mission and our mission president said we aren't allowed to drink the soda... I guess the health standards at the local coke bottling plant are not very high...  

This is kind of interesting, they give everyone who is going to the Philippines a water bottle with a filter in it, so though I can't drink the soda, :( I don't have to boil my water :). All of the elders from Kiribati are really funny.  It is really great, :) and they all like to drink red creme soda from the vending machines.  We really haven't learned very much about the culture yet.  I really liked the Lorenzo snow quote from mom that talked about that Godliness can't be given, but must be acquired.  Thank you so much for the packages and letters, and all of the great food :)I suppose that you figured out from my letter that my estimated departure date is actually the 7th of October.  Thank you so much for all the mail.

 It turns out that your investigator becomes your teacher. It was supposed to be a surprise, but  some of the other Elders told us about it, but it was still pretty cool. So Felix's real name is Brother Mace.  So basically our teachers alternate, so usually If we have Brother Mace in the morning, we will have Brother Lopez in the evening.  Brother Mace speaks Tagalog really fast :P Brother Lopez was telling us about how including the spirit in your lessons should come first and then the language, and I agree with that.  I hope Mark is doing well in Germany. I am so jealous that he gets to be out in the field already.

Magmahal ako po ninyo!
Elder Benjamin Merrill

P.S.  I still wish our name tags were in Tagalog. But I guess there is some guy who broke away from the church in the Philippines and started his own church with the same name, and so our church uses the English name of the church on our name tags.  In Tagalog, the name of the church is: Ang Simbahan ni JesuCristo ng mga Banal sa mga Huling Araw.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

First Letter from the MTC!

Hey Everyone!

The MTC has been great so far!  My kasama (companion) is awesome.  His name is Elder Snyder.  He is from Farmington, Utah.  The other companionship of elders in my district is made of Elder Atchley from Gilbert, AZ, (He lives on Elliot and Greenfield.) and Elder Teitawana from the island of Kiribati.

I really miss you guys, but I know everything is going to be ok here and back home.

I actually saw Mark three times, but I haven't had a chance to give him anything from home but the hug from his mom.  I hope you guys all made it home safe and that everything is going well.

Good luck with your first volleyball games for the girls!

I can't wait to learn more Tagalog.  My teachers are great too.

I love you guys so much!

Elder Benjamin Merrill

P.S.  I forgot to mention the sisters in my district.  We have four of them.  I can't remember their names because I haven't spend as much time with them.

P.P.S.  My whole district is going to Naga.