Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011

We were able to meet with the branch president this week. He`s fantastic. He gave us ten less-active and part-member families that he wants us to go visit and report back to him on. It`s so wonderful to have the bishop/branch president`s support when you transfer into an area. I`m so excited that he`s keeping us busy. We`ve been biking around like crazy, visiting these families.
 It`s cool to see the housing all jammed together right above the rice fields.
So the week I got here, there were two baptisms scheduled, but I`m sure you noticed that only one person was baptized. The other is an 18 year old 金人 (golden) of all 金人`s. Seriously. He is going to seminary every morning and according to the seminary teacher, he`s the only one that stays awake through class. Unfortunately, we`ve run into a parent`s approval barrier. The legal age here is 20 and it appears that his parents aren`t ready to let him get baptized. We met with his mother last week. She said she would discuss it with her husband (who is working away from home in Kyushu) and it turns out he`s completely against it. There`s not a lot we can do, besides pray. The incredible thing is how much this investigator loves his parents. He told me last night that he "loves" his dad and will never, ever disobey him. That was a total shock. I was humbled. The word 愛 (love) in Japanese is so scarcely used, ESPECIALLY by 18 year olds regarding their parents. He`s incredible and certainly an example to me. We will continue to meet with him and build his faith until something happens. The Lord will prepare a path, someway, somehow....sometime.
We clean a member`s bakery every Saturday and they always send us home with more bread than we can carry. I love this area. I`ve been wanting to eat real Japanese bread my whole mission. American bread simply cannot compare.
We have a few more investigators. They`re great people. There`s a lot of listening and resolving concerns that we are going to have to do. I need to work on building patience. One thing that President Zinke emphasized in last transfer`s zone conference was teaching and finding "sheep" not "goats." The sheep obviously being the elect who will hear God`s voice, get baptized, and build the kingdom and endure to the end. The goats being the people that want to hang out with the missionaries.
Taken during interviews last transfer
Saturday, the whole zone gathered at Namba (in Osaka) for a zone activity. As usual, we rotated companions around the hour. That place is absolutely insane. It`s nearly as crowded as Shibuya or Shinjuku (in Tokyo), but the people are soooo different. You can meet any kind of person imaginable there. I wish I would`ve taken some pictures. Anyway, it started pouring tidal waves for the last hour so all 20 of us huddled under a building and talked to the construction workers there. We were all soaking wet, but it was a blast. There was a great group picture taken on another missionaries` camera that I`ll have to get a hold of somehow.
Yesterday was stake conference and it was fantastic. This is the Osaka-Abeno stake and I believe it`s the biggest in the mission. I`ve never seen so many Japanese members in one place before. It`s an exciting feeling. Just sitting in the room all together is きもちい (a great feeling). I loved it. The Zinke`s were there and spoke as well.
At Stake Conference I saw Ai Yasufuku again, who I worked with at BYU. I needed proof that we met this time. The A Thousand Cranes` folks will be so happy.
So last Monday was awesome. Here are some pictures, but yeah, we explored Nara Koen and saw the three world heritage sites there. We should be seeing a lot more really cool places throughout the transfer. I`m way excited. (Editor's note: Nara is the original, ancient capital of Japan and was built around the year 710 AD. It's arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the country.)
We went to Nara-koen for temple-viewing and deer-petting. I think this picture is one of the best I`ve ever taken.

 I can`t believe those deer. They alone are reason to come to Nara.

 I can`t believe how friendly they are. They`re like silent, gigantic dogs. They will come right up to you and nudge you with their antlers, looking for food.

According to local folklore, deer from this area were considered sacred due to a visit from one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine. Killing one of these sacred deer was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637, the last recorded date of that law having been enforced.

Kasuga Shrine

And Todaji. World`s largest wooden building and largest indoor statue of Buddha.

Randy, がんばれ! (Work hard!) Get that part! If it ever ends up on film, make sure to get a copy. I want to see that musical someday.
I am completely out of time. I hope you all have a great week. We`re going to go see Horyuji today with the Yamatokoriyama Elders, one of whom is Elder Cardoso who I worked with a couple transfers ago.
Talk to you next week!

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 22, 2011

Well, this week`s email is coming to you from Nara!
This is a fantastic place. I love it here. I feel totally なれた (at home) to this area already.
 I`m going to go see Todaaji today. I feel tortured not being able to just go exploring here.

So basically, we were in the honbu  (mission home) from Tuesday until the transfer day, which was Thursday.  I had to stay behind at the honbu for a few hours, just in time for all of the returning missionaries to show up. I got to see Shields 姉妹 who I served with in Kobe at the beginning of my mission. She`s awesome. She served an awesome mission. It`s really weird thinking that I am now older than she was when I first got to the mission.

On Friday, we had two baptismal candidates pass their interviews. One, Brother Imanishi, is 20, and the other is 18. Both were to be baptized yesterday, but due to some complications with parents, the 18 year old has been delayed until the 4th. Next week is stake conference, so we`ll wait until the next week. We had an appointment to meet with his mom on Saturday, but she wasn`t able to come. No matter what happens, I`m positive that he`ll be baptized. He is already attending seminary every morning and carries around a super marked-up triple combination. His testimony is stronger than any of the other youth in the branch.
Elder Anderton, Brother Imanishi, Elder Low. Imanishi Kyodai was baptized yesterday. That`s the best way to transfer in to an area. I had nothing to do with it, but the branch sure is excited to see you when you first meet them at a baptismal service.

The 伝道主任 (Ward Mission Leader) here is totally awesome. His name is Fujita 兄弟 and he lived in the US for 20 years so his English is like a native. Beyond that, he just has TONS of interest in the work. It`s incredible how much of a difference it makes when members not only fulfill their calling, but are enthusiastic about it. He is on top of everything and makes sure everything gets done and he`s doing everything he can to help us. The branch president is the same and invited us to branch council and will meet with us during the week. I love willing, hard-working members. There`s nothing that helps missionaries more. On top of all of that, a couple from the Ibaraki ward that I served in earlier this year, moved to Nara yesterday. What are the chances?! The wife said she was shocked by how much my Japanese improved and that I 宣教師らしくなりました (really act like a missionary). I guess that`s half a compliment, huh? I`ll take it.

My companion is Elder Anderton from San Antonio, Texas. He`s on his third transfer and he`s great. Last transfer, I got the hang of being senpai (senior), and honestly, I was in the mindset of "this isn`t so bad, just a little extra weight is all" but that was with a Japanese companion. For some reason, I never took into account that I now have to REALLY pull some weight, not only that, but help my companion learn the language. For whatever reason, I never imagined myself doing this. It`s an adjustment, but we`re off to a fantastic start.

Thanks for including the little bit about mom`s talk. I remember those sacrament meetings, I always wondered if I would ever be talked about in one of those. It always seemed like a distant fantasy. It was never really going to happen. It sounds like you said nice things. It`s weird to hear that the bishop worried that much about getting me to Japan. My whole goal during that process was to get in the mind set that I WASN`T going to Japan so as not to be disappointed when I got called to Texas. It was crazy how I simply couldn`t stop thinking about it. A week before I got my call, I was talking with one of my friends, Joni Stubbs, and she said she had a friend who had just been called to Japan. She texted him to ask which mission it was and when he replied "Kobe" I not only felt like I was going to Japan, I knew I was going to Kobe. Well, I didn`t KNOW, but I think you can understand the feeling. It was deja vu when I opened my mission call. Weird, thinking that that was over a year ago. And you`re right, I do come home in about a year.

I saw Elder Bunderson just before he left. I bet mom came home from that event saying "he`s huge!" All of mom`s friends` sons are all home from their missions now. The halves are dwindling in number. Elder Johnson, who was a really good friend of mine when I lived in Kobe, goes home this coming transfer as well. It`s so strange.

Well, I`m out of time. Good luck with everything!

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 15, 2011

This is me and Toshi from Eikaiwa (English Class):

He comes every week. It was raining on Friday so only he came. He always carries a tour-guide narration book about Himeji-jo (he gives tours of Himeji-jo in English) with him and asks me questions. The English in the book is very eloquent and stylish and I`ve always loved English, reading, and writing, so he loves my explanation of the grammar principles and nuance in the book. Since he was the only student, the two of us sat down and read that thing for an hour. It was a blast. He asked if it was ok for him to say the closing prayer at the end. He`s awesome.

I`m transferring to Nara! I`m going to get another young missionary, I think he will be on his third transfer. There are only 7 World Heritage sites in Japan and Shingu, Himeji, and Nara all have one of those world heritage sites in them. I should count my blessings.
This is a picture from our last district meeting. From left to right: Elder Coburn (zone leader working in Sumoto), Elder Stanford, Elder Nuttall (district leader), Elder Shimizu, Elder Nakamura, me, (front row) Elder Burns (Toyooka zone leader who was on an exchange with Elder Coburn for the day), and Elder Enta.

This has really been a great district. I`ve received a LOT of help from both my district leader and zone leaders this transfer. The last district meeting was great. Everyone bore their testimony on the Atonement and it was so powerful. Writing that and reading it just seemed really cliche but...well, it was. It felt really good.

This week was the first EFY ever held in Japan. I walked into the chapel yesterday and two young men on the front row had pink wristbands on that had EFY written on them so I asked how it was. They were beaming. They couldn`t stop talking. It was like talking to two five year olds who had just spent a week with Santa Claus. When I told them I had been to EFY before, they did the traditional EFY clap and chant. The other great thing is they used the exact same schedule that all other EFY`s use. When I asked if they had pizza night or "how was the variety show?" they lit up like Christmas trees. It was great.

The bishop had all of the youth who went bear their testimonies and it was moving. About six kids bore their testimonies, three of them I had never seen at church before. There are few active youth in Japan. I think starting EFY is a monumental step for the Church in Japan. All six of them gave powerful testimonies and seemed to have really grown from the experience. They talked about how they were able to make lots of friends and all of the various spiritual experiences they had. I was so happy. I`ve met so many families who just think it`s a given that teenagers don`t come to church. EFY is a good experience for us in the U.S. but I feel like it`s necessary here. These kids need to know that they`re not alone in the church and they need to have more opportunities to have spiritual experiences.

The congregation was all in tears as the youth bore their testimonies, especially the parents. Another typical thing in Japan is families sit separate. Kids usually don't want to sit next to their parents. Well, all of those kids walked off the pulpit and sat next to their parents. This was definitely an inspired move for whoever organized it. These youth are the future of the church and they really need to be spiritually nurtured.
This is how we get the TV from the first floor to the third floor of the church.
I got a call last night from a Suezawa Shimai in Takamatsu. She said she knows my parents. She was in the Sakaide branch and said she held Jacob when he was a baby. At first, she thought I was Jacob and said "I held you when you were a baby!" She said she really "kando shimashita" (was moved) when she heard that I was in the Kobe mission and remembered you two. She also said that dad worked at the junior high right next to her house. She said the two of you worked very hard to help the branch and she was very thankful. Basically, she was just so excited to talk about it with me. She says yoroshiku (hello) and thank you for your service all of those years ago. That was really cool.
This is Nagoyama cemetary. It`s really big. We went here last Monday. Apparently, some of THE Buddha`s ashes are inside. They were a gift from India several years ago. It was closed so were weren`t able to go inside and see them. It was cool though, very pretty. There are stray cats all over the place.

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8, 2011

It`s been a really eventful week. I`m not sure what to write about.

There`s a recent convert here who is mentally ill that we met with on Monday. He calls us all day every day but doesn`t pick up the phone. Just lets it ring once and then hangs up.

We also met with Fujio Kyodai who is a relatively new convert.
This is Fujio Kyodai. Any guesses at his age? 18? 23? ....yeah, it`s 34. This was actually taken on his birthday
There are lots of less-actives in our ward and all of them have really strong faith. They all know the church is true and know that they are supposed to be going. They just won`t because they've been offended at one time. We really need to be careful about how we behave in church, but we also need to be careful as to how easily we are offended and how slow we are to forgive.
We had zone conference in Kobe as well this week and it was great. There were tons of new missionaries and TONS of departing missionaries that bore their testimonies. There was something really weird about this group of departing missionaries` testimonies. They don`t seem like "old" missionaries to me. They all were just past their halfway mark when I got here. I realize now that I`m about to hit MY half-way mark and I`m going to be where they were when I came to the mission. That`s fast! Elder Johnson who I lived with for one transfer in Kobe was in that group, so was Elder Bunderson. One that really surprised me was Sister Murdock. Gaijin sisters go home after 11 transfers but she has to go home one early for school. She was living in Kobe when I got to the mission and I remember other missionaries saying "wow Sister Murdock, you`re already on your 5th transfer!" Now she`s going home and I`m about to start my 7th. It`s weird how fast it can seem.
On Wednesday we did an exchange with Kakogawa. I exchanged with Elder Nuttall, the district leader already this transfer so I went with Elder Stanford while Elder Nuttall and Elder Shimizu worked together. He is a second transfer missionary from Morgan, Utah. He used to live on a military base in Sagamihara and talked about how he and his brothers would go play at Machida Eki on Saturdays. It`s like that place calls my name every day I`m here. He is a great missionary. It`s weird having missionaries ask me for advice as the older missionary. I still don`t feel like I`m done doing that yet.
We visited the Nishikawa couple last night. Nishikawa Shimai is 100% Japanese but grew up in Brazil speaking zero Japanese. She has a very Brazillian personality and accent and it`s awesome. Nishikawa Kyodai served in Sapporo around 1978 and had a picture of the meetinghouse in Wakkanai.
I`m glad I got to meet Sister Okazaki. She came to see A Thousand Cranes and also came and met us right after we were cast and the show was still being discussed and the concept decided. She seemed really healthy then. She drove herself down from Salt Lake in her own car...both times.
I`m glad to hear that two more missionaries returned to our ward. I remember when both of them left. I`m sure it is a relief to be finished with all of the summer camps as well. Somehow, I`m going to dodge outdoor activities in my adult-hood. I don`t know how, but I still know that I`m not a camping person. There are many, many reasons why I was sent to Japan, I think.
I guess that`s all for this week. Have a good one!
These are....yes...asparagus wrapped in bacon flavored potato chips.

We visited Koko-en, the gardens and former living quarters for servants and soldiers next to Himeji-jo. It was quite a pleasant surprise. I couldn`t believe how pretty it was. It`s probably packed in the fall and during Sakura season.

Most of the doorways in the castle are that small. People really have grown taller through the years.

Random picture of the moat. I still can`t believe how big it is. You could go boating in there.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1, 2011

I can`t believe it`s August. I hit one year next transfer.
We went to Himeji Castle last Monday. It was awesome. It`s still totally worth entering, even though the main tower is under construction. I do want to come back sometime after it is finished though. That won`t be until at least 2014.

They`re redoing the main keep but have an exhibition set up so that you can see the work they`re doing.

My favorite part of the castle was probably the west living quarters, that long hallway. It`s an endless hall of rooms that are all still in perfect condition.

It was built for Senhimje, the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu (The first Shogun). The thing is huge.

 You can really feel the presence of the people that lived there before.

This week we had a massive, all zone-all day exchange in Sumoto. All of the Elders in the zone went to Sumoto (the zone leader`s area) and exchanged from Elder to Elder by the hour.
The bus ride to Sumoto, on Awaji Island. You cross a huge bridge.

Sumoto is seeing success that`s unheard of in the mission so I think everyone went expecting to see some big secret revealed. (Note: To learn more about the Sumoto miracle, click here.) There really wasn`t too much of that. The thing that struck me the hardest was when I was walking around with Elder Knight on the beach (it is a TINY little city, just a tad bit bigger than Shingu) and some kid started waving at him and calling him by name. Those Elders are celebrities on the island. The little kid knew him because his friend was recently baptized. Those two Elders are not afraid to be themselves....they have friends. That`s why Sumoto is exploding. They`re being themselves and connecting people. You would think that`s such and obvious thing, but it really struck me.

That night, all of the Elder`s went to the branch activity....volleyball on the beach. It was really just watch little kids throw a volleyball back and forth over the net. Regardless, it was probably the best activity I`ve been to in Japan. Three families with tons of kids all got together and just had a great time. That branch is full of children. The gospel is really meant to be lived as a family. It was easy to see that. That little Sumoto branch is headed for great things. I can`t believe how strong the three recently baptized families are. If it continues at its current pace, it should be a ward within the next year or two I would guess.

So that next morning everyone went to Kobe for interviews.

On Saturday, Toshi, one of our Eikaiwa (English class) students called and said he wanted to take us to go see fireworks. That was awesome. I love Matsuri`s (festivals). For whatever reason, I feel super trashy when I go to similar events in the US, but in Japan, it`s just awesome.
He bought me Karaage (Fried Chicken) and we sat on the ground and watched them launch fireworks over the ocean. I took some videos. They weren`t just fireworks. These things were massive. I`ve never seen anything like it. They take fireworks really seriously out here. One of the very few things that`s actually bigger in Japan. They had some that had a 300 meter circumference. They extend from end to end of your peripheral vision and leave your ears ringing.
On the drive home, Toshi (who told us he`s in his 70`s, even though he looks 50) told me that he feels like there`s something in life that he needs to get done before he dies. He wants to meet and talk about it. He also said he has lots of advice for me, since I`m so young. Hopefully we`ll be seeing him soon.

The pictures you sent from the McIntyre`s homecoming were so heart-warming I can`t describe it. I`m just so happy for everyone in that picture! I`m really glad mom and Sister McIntyre got to know each other as well. I always thought they`d get along. They are prety nitteiru (similar). I recognized Elders Bowman, Nielson, Starks, and Maeda...I lived with them. There were a few others that I met here and there in that picture as well. I`m really curious as to what they had to say and how they`re all doing.

That handcart picture was pretty awesome. I can happily say that I escaped my youth in the church without going on one of those things. I`m sure it was a good experience though.

I`m glad Sam enjoyed his experience in Japan. The hardest I`ve ever cried in my life was when I left the house in Naruse after staying there for a month. I cried all they way to Narita airport and then for half of the plane ride. It`s something I can`t describe. It`s like being introduced to your other half and then having it taken away from you again. I hope Sam can go back sometime. I`m excited for Clint to experience it too. Somehow I`m going to have to spend time in Machida after my mission. Sam, if you send me a video of just a cave that`s embedded in an email, it`s probably ok. I loved the Asakusa pictures. I went there too. I went to Ueno zoo and Tama zoo as well. Did you go to the zoo with the okapi? Send me some more pictures if you have any I haven`t seen yet.

I sent a package today that should come in a little while. It has tons of brochures and touristy things that I needed to send home, hopefully they`ll get scrapbooked. There are a couple Japanese books that I don`t need and are too heavy in there also. Benkyo shiyoze! (Get to studying!)

Man, there is no time in this darn internet cafe. I guess I`ll see you next week!