Sheng Dan Jie Kuai Le!!! Merry Christmas!!!
I've had the wonderful gift of getting to know my new companion, Elder Dailey. He is super easy-going, which is great because I've been feeling particularly stressed and he can really soften the mood. He is also quite the athlete, which motivates me in exercise time in the mornings. I enjoy his optimism and his humility, and he sets a high bar for the kind of missionary I should become.
On Thursday, the whole mission got together in a great Christmas celebration. We all met up at a Buddhist temple and took a picture, and sang Christmas songs. We ate our fill at the Taichung Steakhouse, and had a spiritually uplifting Fireside (Church Meeting) afterward. It was awesome to see all my old MTC friends and catch up on our mission lives. Elder Christiansen has lost weight, and he just had his first baptism. Elder Fronk is living it up in Ping Dong, talking with fisherman BeiBei's (old men) in Taiwanese. Elder Raley seems to love his work and has become very good friends with a lot of fellow Elders in his area. Sister Chord and Sister Newman have both exploded in their Chinese speaking abilities, and have been doing terrific work. Elder Cox is actually in Sister Newman's district right now, and he says that she has been setting an amazing example for everyone of dedicated service and limitless charity.
During the Fireside, President Bishop said he wanted to call three people up to bear testimony, and as he announced the first two names he was staring right at me. I was not surprised when he asked me to speak last. My heart was pounding over the next six or seven minutes as I waited for my turn, pondering frantically what I was going to say. When I went up there, I just felt the Spirit take over, and I was able to speak from my heart. I'm glad I had the opportunity to share my testimony with my fellow missionaries, and it certainly reaffirmed my own testimony that God loves me and truly can help me overcome any challenge I face.
During a Christmas activity in our Ward, Elder Dailey and I talked with Brother Oba about his work as a US Ambassador in Taiwan. I asked him what his craziest assignment was, and he recounted the following story:
"My first assignment as an Ambassador was to work in South Africa. I have two main jobs: One, I am to be the US representative whenever anybody wants one, usually for meetings, funerals, and such. Two, if an American gets into trouble in the country, such as being arrested or dying, I have to sort out the problem and, for the latter problem, make arrangements to ship the body back the US.”
"While I was there, we had a man come from the US for some business, and some way or another died while he was still in the country. The family wanted the body back in the US so they could bury it. We put the body in a freezer, and then we were faced with a problem: People in Africa don't embalm bodies, and there were no iron caskets that met the requirements to be allowed to ship on an airline to the US.”
"I went to my boss to inform him of the situation, and to ask him what I was to do. He looked at me and said, 'Son, by the time I was your age, I had embalmed two people.'”
"We still had the problem of the casket, so it didn't matter if we embalmed the body; it still needed to get back to the US. During the middle of trying to sort this all out, we get a phone call from the FBI, who had caught wind of the situation, and after doing some investigating, told us that this man was possibly someone on the FBI wanted list. They wanted a picture, dental sample, or fingerprint sample for analysis. The picture we had of him was terrible; it didn't look anything like him. We tried to get a dental sample, but when we took him out of the freezer, his jaws were frozen and clamped shut, so there was no way to acquire that either. Our last choice was the fingerprinting, and we doubted that would work. His fingers were much like how your fingers look when you've been in the bathtub too long. Nevertheless, we tried our best to stamp his wrinkled thumbs on the sheets, and it ended up working. The guy came up positive as the criminal they were looking for.”
"In the end, we had no way of getting the casket, so a coworker and I embalmed the body ourselves and planned to bury it in South Africa. Right before we finished, the lady working with me said, 'Mr. Oba, you're a religious man. You should do a funeral service.' So, I read a couple scriptures, and then buried him, and that was that."
Brother Oba is just plain awesome.
And now for a Christmas miracle:
All the young single adults in our stake went caroling last night, and we went with them to spread the holiday cheer. The first place we sang was in front of a grocery store. While we sang, there was a man standing just inside, listening to us. As we started to leave, the man started talking to one of our Taiwanese friends, and asked him if we were Christian. He went on to say that he had just gotten out of prison, and that his friends had stolen his identity to scam others, using up all his funds in the process. Now homeless, he was wondering what he was to do next. Our friend told him that us missionaries would be able to help, and then took him over to us and introduced him. Elder Dailey, not understanding what was going on, just started to share the gospel with him. At one point, he told the man that God loves him, and that He will help all of His children if we ask for it. Suddenly, the man bends over and starts sobbing, clinging on to Elder Dailey's hand. We were surprised and didn't really know how to handle it. I feebly patted his shoulder and tried to help him, not sure why he was crying in the first place. We set up a time to meet on Christmas day, and he left in tears, clutching the Church flyer we gave to him.
There is no better way to spend Christmas than to be out here helping others feel the hope and joy that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no better gift I have to give than my time and efforts to serve my fellow sons and daughters of God. I may be gone from my family, but in reality my family is all around me. I just have to choose to see it. And when I do, I stop thinking about how sad I am to be gone for the holidays. I stop thinking of myself, and start thinking of others. I start to love others as Christ does. This is the spirit of Christmas. How blessed I was to be there to see that man feel of his Heavenly Father's love for him, on that winter night in front of a grocery store in Taiwan.
God loves us. I know he does. I feel it when I'm among friends and family. I feel it when I read the scriptures, and when I listen to the prophet's voice. I feel it when I am at church. I feel it when I serve others. I know he loves me, and I know he loves each and every one of you just as much. Let us grow this love within ourselves, let it swallow us whole and fill us up, and then let us share this love with all we meet. Let us live the spirit of Christmas.
I love all of you so much, and I wish you a very merry Christmas and many a happy year to come!
“My new companion, Elder Dailey.”
“Elder Christianson (MTC Companion). I actually got a near smile in this one.”
“Elder Raley and Elder Fronk (MTC District).”
“Me and Elder Cox with our old Zone Leader, and now office Elder, Elder Bailey.”
“MTC district reunion picture!”
“Elder Cox with President and Sister Bishop.”
“Sister Newman and Sister Chord, best friends!”
“Me and Elder Dailey.”
“Some candles at the (Buddhist) temple entrance.”
“Check out the beautiful sights!”
“Elder Christianson and Elder Casperson eating at the steakhouse.”
“Elder Lathan eating a mini octopus.”
“A beautiful French Horn bookmark given to me for Christmas by Amy in the ward neighboring ours.”
“Some more pretty scenery.”
“A guy playing guitar.”
“My sprained ankle. ‘Zao gao!’ (‘Terrible’, or literally translated, ‘Upside-down cake’.)”
“Another photo from Mission Conference a month or two ago... can you find me? :)”