The ward sang "Till we meet again" yesterday as the closing hymn at church, and I was a sobbing mess.
Monday, July 7, 2014
This week is going to be crazy. Today we shop for pizza supplies, I buy a suit, and we shoot an advertisement for our Preach My Gospel class. Tuesday we have a Zone meeting. Wednesday we have an English Party and my Taiwanese mom, Sister Zhang, is visiting me! Thursday we start our first session of Preach My Gospel class that we are running for the members. Friday we have a baptism! Saturday we are throwing a Pizza Party (we will be making about 40 pizzas!). Sunday we have Church, Ward Correlation meeting, and Family Home Evening, not to mention that I am also giving out personalized letters of gratitude that I have written (in Chinese!) to all of the members throughout the week.
Then I go home. Can you believe it!? Normally missionaries get pretty trunky at this point, but I just don't have the time to be trunky. I'm stressed out, I'm tired, I'm up to my eyebrows in tasks, but ironically... I couldn't be happier. I'm having a very fun time out here!
I think the main reason I'm having fun is that I feel like I am using my talents and doing my best to help those I love. The Sisters, Ward Missionaries, and we sat down for a while yesterday to discuss what the needs of the ward were. After a while of agonizing thought and discernment, it struck us how incredible it was that we cared so much about the members. I don't think members really understand how much the missionaries care about them personally. It helped me understand a little bit more the love that my parents have for me, and even more the love that my Father in Heaven has for me. It also helped me feel a little bit of the sadness and sorrow God feels for us when we choose to slacken on our personal progression. We are excited to try some new things to help the ward members develop their own conversion in Christ.
We will be starting a class to help members understand how to use Preach My Gospel in the home. I am floored time and time again by how simply this manual teaches the doctrines of the gospel. It is all too easy for us to over-complicate things, and I feel that this is not conducive to receiving the guidance of the Spirit. When the Spirit does not strive with us, we become complacent, because we are no longer feeling promptings to change and repent. We hope that by providing an environment where members can feel the Spirit while reading Preach My Gospel, members will go home and use the tools they have been given to have spiritual experiences on their own.
I'll write you one more time next week, and then I'll see you all on the flip-side! (Or as Elder Hoopes called it, "pool-side".)
"Other lessons taught?"
"We had three this week."
"How about referrals from members?"
"WHAT!? Geez, how are you doing that!?"
That priceless reaction from my District Leader felt really good during Weekly Reports yesterday. Visiting active members doesn't contribute directly to numbers in missionary work, but despite this, our efforts are paying off. As it says in Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service states that we should "ask everyone for referrals!". However, as we've focused instead on each member's personal conversion, they've given us the names of their friends and family without any prompt from us. This tells me that when members start to trust the missionaries, the work will hasten automatically. Miracles will happen. These are some of the most referrals I've ever received on my mission. The last few weeks have been spectacular on this front.
One other major success we've had is in helping members do their responsibility to do Home Teaching. Taiwanese church members do not seem to have a thorough understanding of the purpose of Home Teaching. Most members think it is a monthly visit to another member where you read an article from a church magazine. When all the people they visit are less-active, you can see how an assignment like this can be a little daunting.
So, this week we set up a family and invited their Home Teachers to come along with us to get to know them. We asked him to share with the family what the purpose of Home Teaching was. He talked about the usual procedure of Home Teaching, and we expanded on it by talking about how Home Teaching is a Priesthood duty, or a way to help the members of the ward grow closer together and be strengthened.
Well, I guess he liked what was shared, because he went out on his own and visited all the rest of his less-active members that he was assigned to visit, and even brought one of them to church with him. He later shared in Elders Quorum that despite that he is in the Elders Quorum Presidency, last week was his first time Home Teaching. He also said that through that first visit he came to understand that Home Teaching was about making friends with the other members and administering to their needs. "I love Home Teaching!" This was very exciting to see for us, and we are working on helping the rest of the Home Teaching companionships get to know their assigned families.
Have a wonderful week!
Dad, remember that time when you took me to a big parking lot and you taught me how to drive a stick shift with that old black Honda? I must have stalled that engine so many times. I was embarrassed, but I think you found it all pretty funny.
Do you remember that one night when we saw an aurora, and you grabbed your camera and we stayed up late into the night playing around with the long-exposure settings? Ever since then, I've paid close attention to spaceweather.com; you got me hooked.
And do you remember that time that I stepped on a nail? I know that freaked you out pretty bad, but you kept pretty calm and that helped a lot. I also remember how surprised and happy I was when you came back with a couple Game Boys and Mario Kart to play in the Clinic while I waited for the doctor.
And how about when you helped me make that picture of me pretending to be Harry Potter flying on a broom in camo pajamas? Such a simple Photoshop job, but it meant the world to me then. And when I got to be the guy with the camera flash while you pretended to be Mr. Ollivander at Leif's birthday party? The little kids' gasps were so fun to hear.
Do you remember when you helped me be baptized? I don't remember much, but I do remember how good I felt. I also remember how much you and mom taught me and encouraged me to study out the gospel. I am so grateful for this early example you set for me.
Do you remember when you ordained me to the Priesthood? And how about when we started Home Teaching together? You instilled in me a love for service and building up the kingdom of God. I was sad when I received a new assignment and our companionship was split. I loved working with my new companion, but I missed working together with my dad.
Remember when you drove me around on my first date? Yeah, I should have gotten my Eagle rank earlier, I know, but I'm still grateful you drove me around anyway. I was so awkward, I had no idea what to say to the girl, but you kept your cool and struck up conversation with her. You really saved my behind back there.
I remember the last time I saw you before I left. I think I was a little overwhelmed. I knew how excited you were for me. You knew very well what lay ahead, and what this journey would do for me. But looking back, I was a little afraid. Afraid of the unknown. But the thing that really kept me going was, well, a vision of the man I could become. I saw that man in you. I hoped I could be like that. And I knew the path lay ahead of me, on a small island on the other side of the world.
I come back in a few weeks. I don't know if I've really changed much. I am still far from the man I want to be. But I hope that your dreams for me have been realized. I could send you toys, trinkets, or treats for this Father's Day. But I think the best gift I can send you is your dreams turned to reality. I hope the person you see coming back through the airplane terminal is a little more grown up than the boy you sent off. That is my gift to you.
I love you Dad. I am so excited to go Chinese restaurant hopping with you when I get home.
This week went ridiculously well! After being in Fengyuan for about seven months, I've really gotten to know the members, and I finally felt like I was getting some clear direction. Remember when I had been in Hengchun for five months, and then we had an idea that got the ward on fire? It's happening again!
Fengyuan ward is fantastic. The people are wonderful, and most of them are returned missionaries, which means that they have good ideas about how to do missionary work. However, the fire is pretty absent. Not that this is their fault: a while back there were some negative things that happened between the members and missionaries and this has affected trust. Lately, the missionaries here have rebuilt our relationship with them, and we have even found how to re-kindle the fire. Which unveiled a new problem: how do we keep the fire going? Home and Visiting Teaching, where members go and visit each other each month, is the church's prescribed method of building up the church members/maintaining the fire, but few people do it.
Elder Zhu and I spent much time praying and got a lot of inspiration. Missionaries are really good about starting spiritual fires in the ward members, but because of lack of following up, the fire quickly goes out. We created a detailed calendar follow-up system that is used together with the Sister companionship and ward missionaries.
If the Elders meet with a member, the Elders will write down how that meeting went, and record it on a log, which information is thereafter distributed amongst the other parties. Recorded is the lesson content, overall reception, and extended commitments. Then, in the following week, either the Sisters or the ward missionaries can call them and follow up on that commitment, or visit them and teach the next lesson. All efforts are coordinated during our weekly correlation meeting, so that every party is clear about who will be visiting whom at what time.
We feel this is a very good way to both be accountable with the ward and also help us and the ward be unified in vision and in efforts. Through this calendar, the ward knows what the missionaries are doing, and the ward members can better magnify their callings as they take on responsibilities in visiting other members.
Our goal is to clean the inward vessel before focusing on the outward objectives (i.e. develop faith and consecration in the members before finding new investigators). As we do this, we know the Lord will bless us with ample opportunity to fulfill our missionary purpose.
We've already seen blessings from this. Members have given us referrals which have turned into new investigators. One of our current investigators suddenly became very interested and comes to all the church activities, and asks lots of good questions. Members get excited as they more visibly see the progression of our investigators and the baptismal goals they have.
I know the Lord is blessing us. I'm glad I have Elder Zhu as my companion, and that I can spend my last few weeks helping the ward members in their own personal spiritual progressions.
One week into my last transfer, and we are receiving some fantastic miracles from the Lord. In one day, we had five members tell us to meet with their friends, which is practically unheard of. God is truly blessing us for our efforts.
Elder Zhu is hilarious. And he's just a charm. He makes me a gourmet breakfast every morning. I try to beat him to the kitchen, but he's already there chopping up peppers and cooking eggs, and he just kicks me out and tells me to go take a shower. He experiments a lot with his foods and for the most part, they all taste pretty dang good. I think he enjoys having a companion that appreciates his desire to experiment. His cooking reminds me of my dad and his occasional experimentation with meals.
One of his strengths is that he is a very good teacher. He can very carefully discern the investigator's needs and accordingly alter the content of the lessons to address those needs. He is very professional, but also a lot of fun at the same time. We have a slight language barrier (especially because he speaks very high level Chinese), but it's less of a hindrance and more of just a funny thing to laugh about.
Working together, we found some great new investigators, all of which have accepted baptismal goals. If all works out well, we should see about 5 baptisms in Fengyuan before I go home. This would be a dream come true!
Sister Li, a ward missionary, asked me what I wanted to see happen in Fengyuan during my last transfer. I prayed about it, and then on Sunday I had an opportunity to fast for my desires. My greatest desire is to see the members in Fengyuan ward to become more personally converted to the Savior as they help their friends and family in their own personal conversion processes. I also hope to see Sister Xie and her youngest son baptized, as well as see Sister Li's family start investigating the church.
I shared my testimony on Sunday during Fast and Testimony Meeting, and I had all the members laughing a lot. My Chinese has come a long way. Also in attendance was a guy from Utah who had studied Chinese for 3 years and was here on business, but I still served as his translator throughout all the Church services. God has truly helped me learn this language a lot.
The members are planning something for my farewell, and my companion is in on it. However, I can't understand anything they are saying, considering they refrain from Mandarin and switch to Taiwanese and Hakka dialects when I'm around. Today I ran into a youth member from my first area, and my companion started talking with her in Hakka about it. Gosh, what's going on!?
I got to call my friend Brother Chen, whom I taught in my first area. He's still doing great, going strong in church! He feels his faith is not up to par though, so I'm thinking about how I can help him out. He's a great friend, and I'm so glad I had the chance to meet him during my time in Lingya.
Have a wonderful week!
So weird! My last movecall. I said goodbye to my "son", Elder Hintze, today, and welcomed my newest and last companion, Elder Zhu (a native!). Elder Hintze and I ended on a good note, and I'm very happy about that.
We met with the Xie family last week, and the mother is on fire! We feel confident about inviting her to do a baptismal interview this week. She attended church, and loved the lesson they had during Sunday School about Family History work. There is a Family History activity coming up, and she will be bringing her father with her so he can share what he knows about his family tree.
We also had a really cool lesson this week. We were meeting with a less active member, Brother Ke, and he loves philosophy. He answers most questions from a philosophical standpoint. This was always a concern to us, because it seemed he did not put much stock in the scriptures. One day we texted him and asked him to prepare a question for us to study about that night when we came to visit him. He later asked us how he could improve his relationship with his young daughter. We then turned to the scriptures and individually spent five minutes looking for answers. Afterwards, we went around in a circle sharing what we found. Elder Hintze and I shared scriptures about loving others and changing your own heart. After hearing these, Brother Ke was pretty blown away. "Wow, I normally think about what others are doing wrong," he told us. "I don't ever think about what I myself need to change. ...Thank you. That's an amazing answer." I am grateful for the power of the scriptures. We didn't have to tell him anything: the scriptures and the Spirit did all the teaching.
I'm grateful for my mission. I've learned so much about myself. I've grown. And sure, it's tough to be out here. It's hot, I'm tired, I make tons of newbie mistakes still; but at the day’s end, I look back and think, Man, that was good work. I love being out here. I love serving the Lord. Even when I go back home, I'm never gonna stop. This is where happiness is.
Have a wonderful week!
Etiquette Dinner Preparation
Sister Li and Sister Chen heart-attacking our bikes for my birthday.
Wet, wet, wet. The rains be comin' down. It's amazing to me how fast the weather can change. One second we will have bright, cheery sunshine, and the next the winds pick up and the rain comes down in buckets. I love the sound of the thunder in the storms. We had a good amount of flooding over the last few days, but it's funny to me how that didn't even faze the Taiwanese.
The last week we had a decent amount of miracles! For one, tons of people fed us, which is pretty rare. Out of the blue, we were getting calls from members, asking us to come over and have lunch or dinner with them. One person was a random guy on the road who insisted on treating us to lunch. We also got to go to a far off secondary and visit a wonderful family, plus we got to meet their neighbors who loved us and fed us lots of expensive peaches. On Sunday a random man came to church with his family, who introduced himself to us as a less-active member who wanted to become active and see his wife and daughter baptized. We will be meeting with them soon.
Perhaps the one event this week that was the most special, though, was the etiquette dinner that the missionaries threw for the ward on Friday night. Sister Sears is a fantastic cook, and they went all out on dinner preparation. We didn't expect that big of a turnout, but a solid 30+ members came, and the response was fantastic. They enjoyed learning the rules of American etiquette, and I heard more than one member say to their friend quietly, "Wow, this is good food!" The missionaries also acted as waiters and waitresses, which was enjoyable for us and left a good impression on the members. We also had 10 investigators in attendance, one of which brought her boyfriend who was originally a little antagonistic towards religion. We closed off the night with me singing "Savior, Redeemer of My Soul", and "76 Trombones" for the encore. More than one member asked us when the next activity was going to be.
We were wondering previously how we could improve our relationship with the ward, and the activity really got the wheels turning. Members were much more friendly during church the following Sunday, and we felt like mutual trust and understanding was on the up-side. We're having fun!
We only have one more week until the next transfer. President hinted that I'd be staying in the area, and that my companion will probably leave. But we'll see, nothing is really that solid when it comes to transfers. I will definitely be sad to part with my companion. Elder Hintze has a fantastic, strong desire to share the gospel and to serve those around him, including me. He has been an inspiration to me, and I have learned a lot from him. I may not have been the best senior companion and trainer for him, but he showed me that the Spirit is the real trainer and teacher, and that we are truly both juniors! He learned much more than I could have ever taught him. I'm grateful for this experience, because it really humbled me and helped me fortify my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
Have a wonderful week!
Me and Elder Hintze
Elder James and Elder Tolman
Elder James, Elder Hintze, and Elder Casperson
Me with Elder Jensen—my District Leader
Tanzi-Fengyuan District (we have a senior couple too!)