I started off this week charged up with the fresh energy that a familiar culture brings, obtained via Costco goods. I bought my fair share of overly large muffins and *real* milk (you know, straight from the cow kind), along with a jumbo sized box of Raisin Bran and Oreos. As it turned out, I was going to need all the energy I could get. The following week turned out to be a near fiasco.
The tough stuff started out when Elder Haag, assistant to President Bishop, stayed with us for a day to evaluate how we were doing as a companionship. We were talking about how the area was doing, and how we felt about the work, when I expressed an observation I had made about street contacting: "It seems that people have been ignoring us a lot more the last few weeks."
He asked, "Have the people changed?"
"Then that says to me that you've just lost faith in the area."
I was a little stunned by this statement. Did he just tell me I didn't have faith? People have told me that's one of my strengths, and here he is tearing that down with almost no emotion in those words. I wanted to be angry. But instead I just sort of panicked. I started to doubt myself... What if I really was lacking in faith? But no, it can't be that I don't have faith in the area, right now we have several investigators looking good for baptism. No, perhaps it's just faith in myself as a missionary. I often doubt in my abilities, thinking I'm not adept for this work.
I expressed these thoughts to my companion, and he told me that it seemed to him that I was putting my faith in the wrong place. I should have faith in Christ,that He can make up for my weaknesses. Only when we have faith in Him can He help us.
I figured one way to grow faith in Christ is to see the blessings that He has given me, more specifically how He's worked through me to bless the lives of others. One way this can be measured is by the amount of love I have for others. So, I prayed for charity, which is the pure love of Christ. I started to pray for that every day, hoping that if I can see the love growing within myself; it would grow my faith as well.
Something that everyone knows is that if you pray for patience, you will be given very stressful experiences. It's just the way God works. He will give you trials that target the weakness you have. This time was no exception.
There is a man we know that is extremely physically handicapped. He suffered polio when he was young, and somehow this left him with almost no muscle control in his entire body. We often go to visit him and his 12-year-old son, often to clean the house for him or change his clothes and take him to church.
On this particular week there was going to be a party on Saturday night, and he was invited to come. The ward had planned on a certain member to give him a ride there, but the member couldn't do it, and the member somehow, on Friday night, placed us with the responsibility to find a ride for him. We struggled to find members to help him, but we had two major problems: There was a church activity all day in Taipei, so everyone was out of town and wouldn't answer their phones, and very few people in Taiwan actually have cars. What was especially frustrating was that we were on exchanges when we got this assignment: my companion was in Zouying at the time, so I was the only one who had enough knowledge of the ward to make the calls.
I finally called him Saturday morning and told the man, we'll call him Li, that I hadn't found a ride for him. He told me that I must find a ride for him, that he must go to the activity, and that I must go at 2:00 to visit him because he must get a haircut so that he can look good at the party. The latter part was not in the plans, so I was just flabbergasted. I had no idea what I was going to do, because absolutely everybody was gone and nobody would be able to give him a ride to the barbershop. All I could do was tell him I would do my best and drop by at 2:00.
Of course we found no one to give him a ride, so my stomach was all clenched up in a knot when we went to visit him. Li at first was stressed out, and told me to call some members right then. This didn't do anything, everyone was gone. I decided then to call our bishop and tell him the situation; miraculously he picked up. Thank goodness our bishop speaks English, or I would have never understood his instructions: have him take a taxi, and when he pays the driver have him get a receipt, and he can get reimbursed by the church. But Li didn't have much cash, so we still had to borrow money to pay for the taxi. Missionaries are strictly not allowed to lend people money, even if they are going to get reimbursed. I asked Li how far away the barbershop was, and he said it was very close, so I decided that we could walk him there. I asked him if he had any cash, and he pulled out of his bag 150 kuai, enough for a simple haircut, not enough for a taxi later that evening. I figured we'd worry about the haircut first. I had to go pick up my companion at that time, so I said I'd come back at 4:00.
When Elder Dailey and I came back, we spent the first hour talking about the taxi situation, and trying to convince him that missionaries really weren't allowed to lend him any money. We spent the next hour lifting him off his bed onto his wheelchair and back again multiple times until his seat was perfect. It was ridiculously stressful; everything had to be executed perfectly or else he'd tell us to take him back to where he was and restart the process. He asked his son to wheel him out of the room, and I guess he wasn't satisfied with the exit technique, because he grabbed the wheel and told him to take him back inside and wait for a minute. This happened probably about 100 times, no exaggeration on my part. The son, needless to say, was getting angrier and angrier, eventually flinging his dad against the bed every time he said to "go back". Elder Dailey and I were exasperated and fuming. This felt like an immense waste of time. It may have been a service, but this was just ridiculous. Finally, Li was okay with the exit procedure, and after a few back-and-forths, became content to get into the elevator.
The barbershop was only a block away, and after waiting for about 20 minutes he finally started getting his hair cut. During that time, Elder Dailey and I were making calls and studying language, anxious to make up for lost time. This was bad though, because we weren't paying attention to Li, who was requesting additional services and racking up a bill. So imagine our surprise when the bill was 250 kuai, which meant we would have to break rules and lend him money anyway.
No members were picking up the phone except for one, who told us the activity was a 10 minute walk away, so we decided to walk him. He wanted the wheelchair pulled instead of pushed so that he was facing backward, so Elder Dailey and I each took a handle and dragged him along the busy streets. Every so often he would grab the wheel and tell us to go back and wait for a minute, and I quickly found I needed a way to control my frustration. I looked at his young son and suddenly the answer came. At some point Elder Dailey was telling me how stressed he was about the whole situation, and I just told him, "Pretend this man is your father."
That young boy is an amazing example of charity. The reason I say this is that he has to go to school, buy groceries, take care of the home, and take care of his father every single day. He sacrifices time with friends and a lot of basic needs to help his dad. He gets frustrated sometimes, but I don't hold that against him, because he still stays and takes up that responsibility anyway. The only motivation I can think of that would make him keep coming back is love.
I got a wonderful letter from my friend Kelly on Friday, and I want to share a portion that helped me understand what charity is all about:
"I believe every single thing that you do each day should be propelled by love. Love for cleanliness, food, safety, punctuality, whatever. To me, love is the most powerful thing in the universe. It makes life here (spiritually and physically) possible; it makes the atonement [of Jesus Christ] possible. ... If we are to become like Christ, and Christ is charity, than we must be charity. Charity lasts forever. It is the only thing that doesn't fail. Christ lasts forever. So it stands to reason that in order to live forever, we must become the only thing that can endure forever: love!"
While this experience may have been insane, I want to tell you that I grew to love that man more than I did before. I understood that love is what makes the trials in life worth enduring. What started out as something negative became something positive. I understand a little better now how God must feel when we try his patience and continually make mistakes, and yet He loves us through all that. "His hand is stretched out still." Love is what makes repentance possible. Love is what makes life possible. Love is what made Christ willing to sacrifice His own life to redeem all of mankind from physical and spiritual death. Love is what made it possible for Him to live again. Love is why we will rise from the grave as well. Love is what gives our life purpose, direction, and happiness. Love is everything!
I am so grateful for the many friends that I've had in my life, and the love they had for me. I am especially grateful for my family, who still loved me even though I was not always an angel at home. I hope I can learn from these examples and love the people of Taiwan just as much as all of you have loved me.
You make my life worth it!
Until next week, love,
“Oh, beautiful Costco.”
“Rich and Elder Chia waiting for some Costco pizza! Seafood flavor, I don't think so!”
“Uh oh, that lady doesn't look to happy to see cameras in the food court.”
“Sister Zheng helping us interpret our Chinese receipts.”
“’Focus on the good.’ –Kelly”
“My glorious bounty of Oreo's. I used most of them for an English activity, mimicking the vision of the Tree of Life.”
“Lots of cool architecture in Gaoxiong.”
“Mmm, chicken head.”
“Sister Zheng babysits this adorable kid. Reminds me of Inge.”