Monday, January 30, 2012

January Draws to a Close

Hello again everyone! It's great to hear from you again. Things are going pretty well for us these days.

Did you hear that at the start of this last conference, the reason Elder Scott spoke first was because President Monson wasn't even at the conference center, and nobody knew where he was? Pretty funny.

We had something of an eventful week. Even though it was Chinese New Year, we were able to get some stuff done. We got treated to a lot of meals by members. Wednesday morning we rode a bus up to Jia-Li, which is one of our secondary areas. It's really far away, so I've never been there, but one of the member families invited us to lunch, so we went. The dad, Brother (name), who is also a stake high counselor, took us to visit some less active members. One visit was to the (name) family. Sister (name) and her four teenage children have been members for awhile, but because of how far it is to the chapel and her work situation and the fact that their dad is not a member, they haven't been coming to church very regularly. However, she's a very faithful member and her kids are pretty cool (but also pretty quiet). Then on Sunday I walked into the chapel and right there on the second row was the (name) family! They had taken a bus all the way from Jia-Li in order to come to church. That was a really great thing for me to see, and they committed to invite their dad to come to church with them next week.

We had zone conference on Thursday, and I got to conduct. It was kind of fun, because I've never done something like that before. It was a really good zone conference about obedience and the blessings of following God's commandments. Then when we got home we ate dinner at the home of a less-active former bishop. Yeah. They seemed pretty nice, it's just that the dad was really lukewarm about a lot of things. It really is sad to see somebody who's made so many serious covenants with God have such pitiful excuses not to come to church. I realize I don't know his life situation, so I really hope to help him work through whatever challenges are stopping him from coming.

We've got several investigators progressing steadily toward baptism. One is (name), who I may have told you about. He dropped out several months ago because some health problems stopped him from coming to church. Recently he called me and said he wanted to start coming to church again, and he's got a goal to be baptized on February 11. Our recent converts are doing really well still.

On Sunday all four of us missionaries had the privilege of speaking in sacrament meeting, and I really hope that it had an impact on the members. I spoke on how we have chances every day to share our beliefs with friends and family and people we meet. I used Elder L. Tom Perry's talk from last conference as my basis. Then Elder Jensen spoke on how those members who have unbaptized family members, like spouses or children or parents, can help those family members get baptized. He shared a bunch of real life stories from his other areas, which was really powerful. I realized that I really didn't try hard enough before my mission to share the gospel. There really are so many simple ways to do it. Preach My Gospel suggests that families can create family mission plans just as wards make ward mission plans. They can set goals for who they'll prepare to hear the gospel and how they'll do it. I want to help families in this ward make such a plan.

One more cool experience: last week we challenged one of our really active members, Brother (name), to let us meet his family, because he's the only member of the church in his family. He agreed, and yesterday we went up to his house. Unfortunately, his older daughter and his wife weren't there, but his fifteen year old son and his next-door neighbor’s daughter were there, and we were able to teach them a very simple lesson. He was pretty funny--he's the very picture of an awkward teenage boy, too shy to answer our questions. But I think both he and the family next door have some great potential; the dad next door came out just as we were leaving and chatted with us for a few minutes, saying he really admires Brother (name) and noticed that he goes to church every Sunday.

That's about it for the week. I did go on exchanges twice this week, and it kind of shocked me and made me realize I have been here for a long time. I honestly felt like an experienced missionary, because for both Elder Zheng, a new senior companion and new district leader serving in the same ward where I was a year ago, and for Elder Nickell, who's been out for two weeks, I have been where they are now. It's a weird feeling that they're asking me for advice and I actually have experiences to draw on and share with them. Strange how time travels when you're on a mission. It seems to go by at lightning speed, but when you look back it seems like those things happened forever ago.

Well, that's my spiel for the week. I sure love you all and I am glad to hear from you each week. Thank you for your prayers and so forth in my behalf. I feel the support of all of you, and I pray for you in return.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

The biggest celebration of the whole year is now underway here in Taiwan. The shops are closed, there are fireworks going off all around at random hours, and the work of the Lord is still rolling on.

Well, my new companion Elder Jensen is from Alabama. He is indeed the one who got into the MTC six weeks before me. He's going home in April. Sometimes President Bishop does that--gives some Elders the last move call or two to serve as a zone leader. I'm sure Elder Jensen could have been a zone leader long ago, except he was needed in the office. He is planning on studying accounting at BYU when he gets back, he's the youngest of three children, and he, like myself, lost a ton of weight on his mission.

I thought I'd tell you all some of the traditions of Chinese New Year. Last night we had dinner with the Bishop and his family, and there are a couple of special foods that they always eat on New Year's Eve (last night). One is called nian cai (or "year vegetable"). It's basically a stalk of spinach with the root still on the bottom, and the tradition is that you eat it starting at the root and work your way up, and you can't bite it until the whole thing is in your mouth, because it represents your life. After you've eaten the nian cai you can count that you've gotten a year older; everyone gets a year older on the same day, so if you count by the Chinese standard, a baby born two days before New Year would be counted as two years old a week later, because he's one year old when he's born and two years old at the new year. Crazy.

The other traditional food is called nian gao, or year cake. It's this sticky, sweet cake the consistency of Jell-o, which is then covered in a very thin shell and fried. It's very tasty. I don't think there's any significance to it except that it's yummy.

This last week was pretty successful. We were blessed to find many more new investigators, including yet another very nice family. The problem is that most people are telling us lately that they can't meet again until after the New Year. So lots of people have potential, but we have to kind of wait for a few days. The 19-year-old and his brother have been meeting with us this week. They're pretty cool still, but I can't figure out where their real interest is. Are they genuinely interested, or just wanting to learn about our beliefs? I don't really know, but they are willing to read the Book of Mormon and pray, and that's one of the most important battles. It's like Alma says to Helaman in Alma 37: "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass." Those who read and pray bring about great changes in their lives. Those who stop doing those things find out that their spirituality dies quickly. Joseph Smith said it too, that a great ship can be influenced by a very small helm. So as long as they're doing those things, I believe they can progress.

We also started meeting with an investigator who just called me up on Tuesday saying that he wanted to meet. Turned out that he was almost baptized about six months ago, but because of a back problem he couldn't come to church for awhile. He's a little bit special, but definitely still accountable and needs baptism. Actually, we didn't even really invite him that first lesson, because we wanted to first make sure he needed it, but after the lesson he said "So, when can I get baptized? I really want the gift of the Holy Ghost." It blew me away for a second, I just kind of looked at him, blinking. Then we invited him for a goal in February so he can first reestablish a pattern of coming to church each week.

Well, that's about all for this week. We're looking forward to a great new week, new year, a zone conference on Thursday, and lots of proselyting.

Talk to you again next week,


Monday, January 16, 2012

Hello again from Platform Bay

That's basically what Taiwan translates to. Hello, my wonderful family! It's so great to hear from you again. Today's a day of new beginnings, because it's move day. More on that later.

So I'm staying here, and Elder Braby is moving out to a small group of islands off the coast of Taiwan called the Penghu Islands. My new companion will be Elder Jensen, who's been serving as the Operations Manager (in the mission office) for the past four or so transfers. He's not here yet, so I still don't know much about him.

Brother (name) was baptized this weekend! I'll send a picture. He's so super solid. He was crying after his baptism, saying it was like being a child again. Pure, innocent, and happy. I really love him. I've been amazed by his faith, his love for the Lord, and his sheer determination to push through all obstacles. He worked hard to get to this point, and I was so happy to see him baptized and confirmed.

We're looking to teach some very promising new investigators. I contacted this kid on Wednesday - he's about 19 and has really long hair--and Elder Braby and another Elder met with him and his two brothers while we were on exchanges, and they're really cool. The 19 year old already read the Book of Mormon and prayed about it. Almost nobody actually prays about the Book of Mormon the first time you invite them. They're really cool. We also found a family who's super nice and willing to have us over to teach them. We were in a big rush, so we didn't have a whole lot of time to get to know them, but they're a really nice family. So things are looking up for us here in Tainan.

Well, I don't know what else to write today. I'm a little rushed because we have to get Elder Braby to the train station fairly soon. Next week's letter will be longer, but I think that is about all for this week.

I love you all so much. I pray for you and I know Heavenly Father loves each of us.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday, January Eighth, Twenty-twelve

Well, this week we are having a baptism! He's one of the most humble and faith-filled men I've ever met. He overcame so much more than anyone else to get to this point when he can be baptized. It's like the parable Jesus tells of a man with two servants, one who owed him 50 pence and one who owed him 500. He frankly forgave them both. Jesus asks, which of those two loves his master more? This dear brother whose life was torn apart before is truly finding the peace and healing that comes from the atonement of Jesus Christ. I'm so happy for him. Our other recent converts are doing well, too. Brother (name), the 19 year old who was baptized two weeks ago, got the priesthood yesterday and he's been attending lots of ward activities. He's one of the starters for our ward's volleyball team in the stake tournament. :) I'm happy to see these people being integrated into the ward so well, because after they're baptized, we missionaries want to be in the picture less and less.

We've also been very blessed to find another person who will likely be baptized before the end of the month. His name is (name), and he's ten years old. His parents were married in the temple but were less active for a couple years. Now they're returning to activity and we are going to help their son prepare for baptism. Really, though, the greatest help for him is the teaching that happens in the home. That's the way God intended it. His parents are very supportive.

We're really working hard to find and teach families. I still want very badly to help an entire family of investigators be baptized together on the same day. We actually saw a miracle tracting yesterday. I've been trying to take Dad's approach and tract as fast as I can. This doesn't involve running, since every house is squished right up next to the one next door, but I'm trying to move on quickly if someone rejects me. We tracted into a guy yesterday and I was trying to tell him about the restoration. He told me "I don't really identify with any specific religion. As long as it's good, I believe it." I asked if we could come in and teach him. He said, "Hm. Sure, come in." We taught him the message of the restoration and he really felt something. A lot of Taiwanese people are confused and think that all religions are true, but when we shared some scriptures and taught him about the Apostasy, he understood right away. "Oh, so those other churches are not the truth because they're different from God's true church." He was super willing to read the Book of Mormon and meet with us again. This really built my faith, because we'd been struggling all week to find new investigators, and we prayed and worked and finally found this man tracting on a Sunday afternoon.

I am not pleased with how fast January is going. Time flies on wings of lightning, you cannot call it back ("Improve the Shining Moments"). I want to work to find and teach and baptize a family each month for the rest of my mission. That won't be easy, I'm sure, but I want to end off with a sprint, like I do when I run the mile in the mornings.

Well, I suppose it's about time to wrap this email up. Other than that, it'll just be clean the apartment, shop at Costco, and so forth. Then we'll go out and preach and teach and work as missionaries do. I love you all! Talk to you next week.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

My goodness, is it 2012 already? I can barely believe it. 2011 was gone in a flash.

Our New Year was excellent, because it started with a baptism on New Year's Eve and a confirmation on New Year's Day. Yes, Brother (name) joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was truly a miracle from start to finish with him. Elder Braby and I were talking about it and we came to the conclusion that we the missionaries don't do much, really. We just teach and invite, but in the end the people who are going to get baptized and stay in the church are those who are willing to put forth the effort for themselves. Those who read the scriptures, pray, and have faith to keep the commandments become converted to Jesus Christ really quickly. He's doing really well, and I can tell he really wants to endure to the end. I think if his family can get converted as well, that will definitely increase his ability to keep going in the church. I'm really happy for him and I love him a lot.

Well, other than that, there's not a whole lot to talk about. This week was a little dry on new investigators, even though I feel like we worked really hard. We're looking for ways to improve our effectiveness and the way we use our time so that we can help more people get baptized. This week we'll be going to zone leader council, which should be very helpful. I always feel like I learn a lot there, because we really have some outstanding zone leaders. I learn a lot from their examples.

Chinese New Year is coming up in a couple of weeks. It'll be the year of the dragon, which always seems to be everybody's favorite. Chinese people always try extra hard to have a son in the year of the dragon. I guess it's good luck or something.

Well, I can't think of much else I can say. I guess I'll just leave it at that for this week. I believe we will have more good news and miracle stories for you next week. I love you all very much and I pray for you every night. I know the Lord will be with you.