Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011

So this is last week`s news but I need to write it before I forget. Last Sunday we visited the Nomura family. Both parents are returned missionaries (Tokyo South) and they have three young kids. The mom told me she converted as a high school student in Takamatsu about 30 years ago. When I told her my parents lived in the Sakaide branch about 23 years ago she freaked out. She said she`s probably met you or at least knows people that know you. Her maiden name is Suezama, I think. She said there was a really active sister in that branch named Akiyama Machiko and that the branch president was Izumikawa Kaicho; she knows them both and is still in contact with them. Are those familliar? (Yes, very familiar.)

So there was an 8 year old child`s baptism in Himeji last Monday, we went there after I emailed you. I figured we wouldn`t be going since we didn`t have any investigators lined up to come, but per my companion, we had to be there. Japanese culture is different, in the church at least. The entire ward shows up to baptisms of children. Heck, less-actives that never come to sacrament meeting were there. It`s almost like a wedding...there were gift bags and such. We got there right after the baptism was performed, but it was worth going just to hear the little guy (his name is Shion as in "Zion") say "boku wa Iesu Sama no yoni naritai desu!" ("I want to be like Jesus")

That night we had a member drive us and a new, less-active member to Kobe for a special Family Home Evening activity that they were doing. We got there late, but it was good to see some of the people I knew there again. What was really surprising was how the majority of the people in attendance, I had never seen before. Investigators flow in and out of these areas so fast, it`s astonishing. There was actually only one family from the Kobe ward there that I recognized, the Minayoshi family. They were the first members that I visited on my mission. The mom is quite a fireball and really happy to see me saying that it was a blessing. I was surprised, besides that one visit, we didn`t work with them a whole lot.

There was indeed a typhoon this week, I had no idea that Shingu got flooded. It`s funny, the whole time I was there, I thought there was going to be some kind of disaster of some kind. It`s just one of those places. Every time you see the ocean and how vast it is and how close everything is to it you think "someday there`s going to be a tsunami here and it will destroy everything". I hope they`re alright out there. Elder Schramm is training a new missionary down there which hasn`t happened for over three years.

We spent a lot of time calling people in the rain. That`s something I`m getting used to. Typically the senpai (senior companion) always has the phone. Sometimes there will be a gaijin (non-Japanese) senpai that can`t speak very good Japanese so the young Japanese misisonary ends up with the phone a lot, but my companion wants me to use the phone and handle the conversations.

We had district meeting and I exchanged with the district leader immediately following it. Our district has three Japanese missionaries and three gaijin.

I hit my ten month mark this week too. I can`t believe how quickly the half-way point approaches. I`ve gotten a couple packages and such from you. Thanks. I really appreciated the music. To anyone that might be reading this: just because I`ve nearly reached my year mark, doesn`t mean that I don`t want mail from you. If anything, I want to hear MORE about you! It`s been longer, therefore, I know less about you and want more updates! Keep the letters coming. Gosh, I don`t want to sound like the whiny missionary that is sad because he gets no mail. That`s not the case. I`m not depressed, I just want to know how things are for everyone at home. Keep writing, I will write too!

I`m so glad that Sam wants to stay longer. That`s exactly how I always felt when I went there. I felt like I was jipped. If he has to go to camp on Saturday and gets home on Thursday...he`s going to be completely wasted. Ganbare Sammy-kun!

I`m jealous that you get to attend President McIntyre`s homecoming. It`s hard to imagine him at home being a normal person.

I was really glad to hear you got a letter from Sister Ilch as well. I haven`t seen her for a while. She transfered to Tokushima. I swear you can become a better person just by shaking her hand. She`s one of those people that`s so pure and kind that you can`t deny that the church is true. You can`t deny anything she believes, for that matter. Not only did she not know anything about Japanese less than a year ago, she was taught it in English, which she doesn`t speak either. I don`t know how it`s possible either. Neither do they. Just like I wrote last week, Sister Myagmarjav was saying when I saw her last "how did we do this?"

We finally get to interview with President Zinke this week. I`m excited to finally really MEET him.

I guess that`s all I`ve got for this week. We didn`t go to the castle last week because it was raining. We may or may not have time this week, who knows. I will enter it before I leave here though, no worries. Say hello to everyone for me!

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011

I realize now that I`ve been really blessed with my areas up until now as far as email goes. At all three of them, I could email for free and there was no time limit. Here I`m on a short schedule and it`s pretty expensive. Anyway, here goes.

So last Monday evening, we had a zone meeting in Akashi. Sister Myagmarjav is serving in Akashi right now so I got to see her. It is so awesome being reunited with people you were in the MTC with. She is doing so awesome....and her Japanese is crazy good. She trained a gaijin (non-Japanese) missionary two transfers ago. She asked, "How did we make it this far?" She said that she and her companion were ridiculously stressed out in the MTC everyday because of their double language barrier, but now when she looks back, all she has is fond memories. Miracles definitely occured in that place, as tedious as it felt to stay there for three months.

The next day I had perhaps the most miraculous day of my mission. A man from Tsuyama (Okayama-ken) wanted to meet with us briefly because he was in town. He`s been talking to missionaries for years because he feels bad for how much persecution our church receives from his own Christian church. Anyway, we could only talk to him for a few minutes before he had to go home.

We streeted for a little bit from there. I asked one guy what the most important thing in his life was and he replied: "smiling." I was pretty happy about that. The guy had no interest, but my companion and I certainly needed to hear it.

We had lunch and I called a bunch of members, trying to figure out how they wanted to help and give a 9 year old convert her After-Baptism lessons. She hasn`t been back to church since her baptism.

We found two other investigators that committed to come to church (they both canceled afterwards, but it felt good then, anyway). I just felt really good about what I was doing.

We then went towards a less-active`s house that (Elder) Shimizu Choro looked up and wanted to go visit. We didn`t know anything about her, but he wanted to go. We had a little bit of difficulty finding it. We were standing in front of a bridge, with Shimizu Choro trying to figure out a map when a lady walked up to us and asked us where we were going. She gave us a little direction when I realized, just listening to her, that she totally wasn`t Japanese. I asked if she could speak English and she said "yeah, no problem." She was from Thailand but has lived in Japan for 18 years. She then asked if we were "one of those religious people that does this for a period of two years" to which I replied, yes. She said she met two of them when she was in college in Thailand and that`s why she walked up to us because it brought back memories.

I thought for sure that we were led near this less-active`s house in order to meet this woman. She ran her dog home and then came back on a bike to show us the way. She got us to the less-active`s house and was about to take off when I tried to talk to her a little bit. She was nice enough to give us her phone number, but was pretty clear on not being interested. I was pretty dissappointed. I felt such a strong impression about her.

We then knocked on the less-active`s door. The address was the same as the one in our records and the name written on the mailbox was correct as well. However, the person that answered said they had never heard of our church and basically told us to go away. We housed a couple houses next door when I felt like we needed to go find the Thai woman`s home. We walked back to where she found us and started knocking on doors there.

The first door we knocked on was one of those houses that has so much garbage and clutter in front of it that you can hardly get to the door. Anyway, the door was propped open. When we rang the doorbell, an old woman came to the door looking rather worried. She told us that she was waiting on news as to whether her brother was dead or not. Either someone was going to call or come to the door so that`s why it was open. She said she wouldn`t have come to the door otherwise. She told us that her sister died very young several years ago and that her husband committed suicide recently and started to cry.

I thought things like this only happened in missionary`s homecoming talks. It was crazy. Of course, I told her about the Plan of Salvation and how she can see all of these deceased people that she loves again. She said she had a long history with religion and wasn`t interested in joining a religion, but that meeting with us seemed like it wasn`t a coincidence. I told her that it certainly wasn`t and that I had come to Japan to find someone like her. She agreed to meet again and we`ll see her this week. I can`t believe how that one happened. We were definitely guided to her, in a very unconventional way, but we were guided, nevertheless.

I will be teaching Eikaiwa (English class) in Ako every week as well since there are two Japanese missionaries out there. We did Eikaiwa twice a week in Shingu. I thought I was done with Eikaiwa twice a week... Anyway, it was fun this week, I like traveling to other areas.

We have visited a lot of less-actives this week. This area has tons of them. Lots of them still have really strong faith and know that the church is true but just can`t quite bring themselves back to church. The problem is the same as my last area....people. Christ really did set the example. Love and patience can seem like such a simple commandment, but there`s a reason that it is also "the greatest." It can be really hard. I think we can certainly see at least one of them come back this transfer.

Sounds like all is well at home. Tell Sam to have fun. He`ll miss it when he leaves.

Congrats to Sisters Schofield and Wirthlin too. They`ll be good missionaries. I can`t believe how many missionaries our ward has out right now. Having a missionary out really blesses a ward. A recently returned missionary from another ward in the Kobe stake came and spoke at church yesterday and he was awesome.

I guess that`s all the time I have for this week. See you next Monday!
Here`s just a couple pictures that I was able to snap this week. We should be going inside the castle today so I should have some great ones next week. I heard you can go inside the main keep (looks like a box right now) you can see the castle pretty well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 10, 2011

Well, it`s been a long first week of the transfer. Himeji is a great place and I`m still getting used to being senpai (senior companion).
Transfer day is Thursday, but since Shingu is so far away we have to leave on Wednesday at 3 in the afternoon and spend the night at another missionary apartment.
This is what the outside of the Shingu building looks like. The apartment is directly above it.

We called Tsuboi Kyodai that afternoon to make sure his surgery went ok and if he got home safely. He sounded fine and I kind of just said my farewell. As we walked to the Eki (Train Station), Tsuboi Kyodai was standing at the bus stop right outside of our apartment, in the rain, with a gift-wrapped tie in his hand. He does that everytime missionaries leave (he did it for Nishio Choro too) but I told him to stay home and rest because he had surgery. He was waiting to take the bus to the train station where he would say goodbye. Takamaru Shimai came also with her daughter and daughter`s boyfriend so the four of them saw me off. It was really great. I miss that place more than I thought I would. It`s not easy being out there, but you do really build relationships with people. It`s such a small really don`t have a choice.
Shingu members came to say goodbye to me at the Eki.

Himeji is good. We`ve worked pretty hard since I got here. As I expected, there aren`t any progressing investigators out here, just a lot of people that are kind of in contact with the missionaries. I`ll be spending a lot of time on the phone now that I`m senpai, and in that there are lots of people that need to be called and re-contacted. It`ll take some getting used to.
This is Himeji city.
This is the Himeji-jo, the most famous and without question the biggest castle in Japan.

Before I came here, for whatever reason, I thought that Himeji-jo would be out in the middle of nowhere because it`s so big. Wrong. It is the center of the city. You can see it right when you step outside the train station. Himeji is also a big crowded city. This is probably my second most tokai (metropolitan) area after Kobe. The area surrounding the castle is covered with parks and museums and it`s absolutely beautiful. It is a huge bummer that they will be fixing the castle for the next four or so years, but even so, this place is beautiful. I can`t even imagine how coveted it must have been by missionaries about a year ago before they started the construction.

We`ve done a lot of streeting which was really different, I hadn`t really streeted for two transfers since I was in the dai-inaka (the boondocks) for my last two. On Friday, we were able to find three investigators which I felt really good about. In Kobe, it was totally normal for us to find five investigators a day, but that was all because of Elder Bowman. I just followed him around and sort of acted like I knew what was going on. It`s definitely different being in the driver`s seat but I think I can get used to it.
The massive Himeji central park. I love walking around parks and talking to people, it`s much more natural than the street.

There`s a recent convert our here named Ikeda Kyodai who got baptized in April but seems like a life-long member. His apartment is plastered with church related material. We had an after-baptism lesson with a nine-year old recent convert of one week there. I definitely want to pass her off to the primary president. Anyway, he was awesome.

At church yesterday, a couple walked in the door name Ono. The husband was baptized a long time ago, as a child, but was never really active. His father died recently and had been telling him that he needed to return to church his whole life. He now has a baby and said he thinks that he wants to create a good atmosphere in his home for his family and he knows that he has to come back to church for that. That was awesome and a miracle, the problem was he simply wouldn`t commit. I nearly begged to meet with him sometime, but he wouldn`t make time. He really wants to go sukoshi zutsu ("a little at a time"), said he doesn`t know if he can ever keep the commandments. He said he won`t come back to church for another month. I was able to get their contact information so it`s a start.

The 4th of July sounds way fun. I hope everyone had a good time.

Glad Sam is doing well too. I did all of those things except for the Nissan factory. I can`t wait to go back.

Well, I`m running out of time. Talk to you next week!

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4, 2011

Well, before I forget and since it`s definitely the exciting news for this week....transfer calls came a day early. President Zinke wants to do them on Mondays from now on. Any guesses?

I`m going to Himeji! My companion will be Elder Shimizu who I believe will be starting his third transfer. I`m a little bit nervous to go senpai (Senior Companion) but I think it will all work out fine. I`ve heard pretty good things about Himeji and it should be fun. One sad thing is that the castle is closed for refurbishment for the next four years. Really sad. I will definitely miss this small branch out here. It went through the floor right when I got here and we`ve worked really hard to get it back to where it was. It still has a way to go, but seeing it change little by little has been really exciting. When you serve in this branch, it kind of becomes your child. I`ll definitely be keeping in touch with these members for a while. It was time though.

We had a "Meet President and Sister Zinke" conference in Kobe this week so basically our whole week was travel to and from there.

On Tuesday we went out to Mie-ken to visit the Iwamoto family in the afternoon. We were pretty sure they wouldn`t be there so it was basically a trip out there to drop a note off. We haven`t been able to make contact with them so we`ve been pretty worried. As it has been for the past two weeks, it was unbelievably hot. They weren`t there. We tried to talk to a man that was working in a rice field (that`s all there is out there) right in front of their house and he wasn`t really interested.

As we were getting on our bikes to go back, I saw an old man wearing a traditional Japanese gardening hat on all fours on a narrow little walkway just past their house (I sent a picture of what is behind their house before). He was picking at some of the weeds coming through the pavement so I figured he was probably gardening, but then when I looked closer his arms were trembling. I ran over there and asked if he was ok. He was chewing on the weeds. He said he was fine but didn`t look good at all.

We tried to help him up. It took about three tries and when we finally got him to his feet, we could tell there was NO WAY that he was going to be able to stand on his own; like there was no feeling in his legs. We put him back down and had the guy that was in the rice field call an ambulance. The old man then started asking for water.

I ran next door (which is quite a ways out there) to get some. There was an old woman sitting watching TV with the door open. She couldn`t hear a thing. I had to scream "OBAACHAN!!" ("Hey, Granny!") before she heard me and I had to explain the story three times before she finally understood. I ran the water back and by that point, there were little heads poking out of all of the rice fields watching me. Elder Schramm had to grab him by the chest and hold him in order for him to be able to drink.

The ambulance got there shortly after. Everyone saw what happened and the man we talked to earlier seemed really impressed. I wish I could say some miracle investigator came out of the situation, but that didn`t happen. I do know that we were supposed to be there then though. Who knows how long that man was out there and he probably wouldn`t have been found otherwise. Plus, everyone saw the two kids in white shirts cause a scene. I felt good about it. It is so hot out here. We`ve had two old guys pass out on us in a week`s time.

We had to leave Wednesday morning to make the trip to Kobe. The zone leaders needed Elder Schramm to do a baptismal interview so I once again went to Sennan with Elder Cardoso (Elder Cardoso`s companion is also a district leader and had to do baptismal interviews for the zone leaders as well. They had a family baptism plus another so about five people needed to be interviewed) to teach their Eikaiwa (English Class) for the evening. The next day (Thursday) Elder Schramm and Elder Kuroda came back to Sennan and the four of us worked there for a day. It was really fun to work with Elder Kuroda again. I was with him all the time back when I was in the Kobe zone.

These are pictures from the Sennan apartment. It has an awesome, tenth floor view. Sennan is where Kansai airport is. It`s on the very southern end of Osaka-fu. On a clear day you can see Awaji-shima and the Akashi bridge, as well as Kobe.

Friday was the 大会 (Conference) in Kobe. I was really excited to be in Kobe for a little bit. It`s really exciting passing through Osaka Umeda Station when your area is Shingu, plus, I hadn`t been back to Kobe since I transfered out of there in March. President and Sister Zinke seem pretty great. They are definitely going to have some cultural and language learning to do...but their vision is fantastic and I`m sure they`ll do great. President Zinke`s vision is "True Disciples - One and All" (真の弟子一人とみな). He talked a lot about what it really means to be a follower of Christ and how it is essential for us to have the Spirit in every single thing we do. He said he thinks we can add zeroes to our current 200 baptisms per year pace. He`s got ambition and it`s great. It was fun seeing all of the other missionaries (only half the mission was there, they will did another conference the next day in Okayama) as well.

We spent that night in Iwade. The Sennan misisonaries are actually covering both Sennan and Iwade areas. Iwade is a tiny little city next to Wakayama. The branch has lots of members, few of which are active. It is actually going to close soon, which is sad. The members will then have to go to the Wakayama ward which will be a little far. Hopefully the missionaries can transition them effectively.

We then spent 8 hours on Saturday getting back to Shingu. We left Iwade at 8 and arrived at 4. This is really the middle of nowhere.

There weren`t many members at church, but one of our new converts who`s really, really struggled to see why he needs to keep the commandments came, blessed the sacrament for the first time (he received the Priesthood last week), and was as humble as could be. He even bore his testimony and said he`s going to try really hard to change. Holding the Priesthood is a big deal. I think he definitely was changed. It was amazing.

Tsuboi 兄弟 emailed us that night saying that he was getting surgery on his kidney stone the next day. He`s the type of person that is so humble, he won`t ever admit that he`s struggling and he can`t bear to ask for help. We had to twist his arm to let us give him a blessing, but he agreed.

We went this morning and sadly, it was probably the last time I`ll see him since he`ll be recovering from surgery up until I leave. I will miss him more than anything. That man has completely changed my life and strengthened my testimony more than anything I`ve ever experienced. He is frankly the most faithful member I`ve ever met and he does it completely alone. He has some ridiculously difficult health circumstances as well, but that doesn`t stop him from being happy all the time. I`ll be keeping in touch with him for the rest of my life. I`m pretty sure of that.

My last picture with Brother Tsuboi when we went to his apartment this morning. I already miss him.

I guess that`s all for this week. I hope everyone has had a good week. Tell Sam to email me! I want to know what he`s up to. I`ll email Grandma as well. Until next week...