Happy December! It doesn't feel like it is December over here, more like early September, but it is getting cooler. We've actually had some good rain! I love it when it rains, it's quite a downpour. As soon as the drops start coming, the scooters and motorcycles suddenly disappear. It's a great time to knock on doors, because everyone is home (which is very rare).
So I've got to tell you about Monkey Mountain. It's called that for a good reason. It's a beautiful jungle area immediately north-west of Gaoxiang, bordering the ocean. It's a good hike! We went with our entire zone (minus the Zone Leaders, one has a bad ACL), which was about eight Elders in total with a couple friends. They warn us to not bring food up the mountain, because the monkeys will find it. I heard a story the other day about Sister Smith in my generation who went up the mountain with some pretzels in her bag. One monkey jumped on her and bit a chunk out of her water bottle and ran off. The monkey must have smelled the pretzels though, because a couple minutes later 30-40 monkeys all came charging out of the trees to attack her. She managed to hurl the pretzels away before the monkeys could overtake her. Anyway, one of our friends who never climbed up the mountain before bought us all drinks. I was sort of freaking out, because I wanted to be gracious and take them but I didn't want to suffer death by monkeys, but I ended up stuffing them in my bag anyway. At one point we came to a huge group of about 60-70 monkeys all hanging out. LOTS of kids. At one point I sat down, and within a few seconds a monkey had come up behind me and unzipped my bag. I stood up quickly and got away. Luckily, I don't think it detected the drinks, because I was never bothered by them. Later, one of them bit Elder Cox's water bottle. It was super weird, they were totally accustomed to humans in close proximity; we would have to step over or around them as they sat around on the path. Very fun!
This past month our Zone had a goal of nine cumulative baptisms. Which we hit, but not really. Turns out one of the people we baptized was seven years old, not eight. Our Zone Leaders in our monthly Training meeting proceeded to jokingly read to us Moroni 8:20-21: "And he that saith that little children need baptism... Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment!" The problem is that Taiwanese kids are so busy that even they forget their birthdays, or how old they are. You ask a kid their age, and they're like, "Seven! No, Five! Eight!" And their parents are of no help either, they often forget as well.
We've been talking with a lot of foreigners lately. In total: One Californian, one New Yorker, one Saudi Arabian, five or six Indians, an Irishman, an Englishman, two French girls and another French guy, and several Russians. Some of them have even set up for more lessons. The common problem that we have when talking to them is that we are used to both the Taiwanese mindset and speaking only Chinese. We end up looking like stuttering fools in our conversations, and we say things that don't really strike any chords with them. The Irishman met with us, but his main purpose was to try to prove to us that we don't believe in the Bible. It's hard teaching people with a strong Christian background. A common phrase missionaries say around here is, "Man, I'm glad I'm not back in the States." I've definitely gained a lot of respect for United States missionaries. They have really tough work.
I got a letter from my best friend Dillon the other day, who is currently preparing to go on a mission to Mexico. He told me about a group that our friend Jared started to help prepare local teens to serve missions. I want to address the rest of this letter to all of you in this group.
When I heard about the little class you put together, I want to admit that my first feeling was one of jealousy, mingled with profound admiration. This is great! I wish I had done more to prepare for my mission, something like this. I can tell that all of you really want to be the best servants of the Lord that you possibly can, and you will be blessed beyond measure for your diligent efforts. Every ounce of preparation you do now will exponentially enhance your success in your mission. I encourage you to keep this up! Keep studying, keep learning, keep improving! Start your mission before you leave! David A. Bednar tells us that we are not supposed to "just go on a mission. We should become a missionary." I am proud of each and every one of you for keeping this perspective.
I've been on my mission for five months now. (Whoa, really!? It feels super weird to say that!) I can now say that I have some experience, and there are things that I wish I had done better to prepare for my mission. I want to tell you those things, and encourage you to do them.
1) Study Preach My Gospel daily. Learn the missionary lessons. Don't just get a surface understanding, but strive for a deep knowledge of the doctrines found in the lessons. Learn the Missionary Purpose, found in the red box in Chapter 1. Keep a study journal and devise a good way to keep your thoughts and impressions organized.
2) Study the Book of Mormon daily. Continually pray to know if the Book of Mormon is true, even if you feel like you have already received that witness. Don't just read it cover to cover, but study it. Use the footnotes. See how the Book of Mormon and the Bible support each other. Try using Preach My Gospel to enhance your understanding of the Book of Mormon. Understand the Doctrine of Christ and how it correlates with your purpose, found in 2 Nephi 31.
3) Share the gospel with your friends and family! It is through the work that you learn the fastest. You may feel that you are not ready. You may feel unworthy or inadequate. Remember that the Holy Ghost will help you know what to say and do in the very hour that you share the gospel. Do not fear failure. What matters most is that you made the effort. You may have planted a seed that future missionaries or members can harvest. Understand that God has a perfect plan, and that we cannot comprehend what He comprehends. So let God worry about if they will accept or not. Your job is to be God's paintbrush. Through you and others like you, He can paint a masterpiece.
4) Love everyone. Love should be your driving motive. Remember that teaching without love is pointless. It is when you teach with love that the Spirit can touch hearts. Above all, love God, and love yourself. You can love others no more than you love yourself. Understand that you are a divine child of God. Know that you are loved. God rejoices with us when we are happy, and weeps when we are sad. He loves you, and wants all of His children to have happiness and peace. Strive to have a piece of this love within you.
You have an amazing adventure before you. Do all you can to prepare now, so that you can perfect your skills and abilities later instead of playing catch-up. As you do what you can to prepare now, God will be able to trust you more with His grand work, and you will begin to see the hand of the Lord in your work. You will see miracles. You will change lives. I am so excited for you, and I urge you with all the energy of heart to continue your efforts. You will all make fantastic missionaries.
Congratulations to Stephanie, going to Chile, Vina del Mar mission! Woohoo!
I love all of you, and I wish you a wonderful December! Enjoy the frost and snow for me!
Hike to Monkey Mountain.
Pretty sunset in Lingya.