Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30, 2012

All of the days have blended together this week. We`ve been knocking on lots of doors and the air is has turned into a greenhouse. I was in love with the apartment here when I first got here, but now we`ve realized that it only has one air conditioner in the tiny little tatami room.
It`s flat-out hot now, and this is the golden week holiday...and this giant park is still abandoned.
We had an 音楽祭 (Music Fireside) at the church on Saturday and it was a lot of fun. I took a lot of video but all of the files are too big to send. Music really brings out the very, very best of everyone. It was a blast. It was the perfect way to spend a warm summer evening. The branch tried to load as many assignments on us as possible. They told me the night before that I had to 司会 (Master of Ceremony). They chided me for not being enthusiastic enough and wouldn`t let me speak unless I held the mic. Sheesh. They made Elder Singleton play the guitar and the two of us sing something in English. All of this with the promise that they`d bring about 20 non-member friends. Well, they didn't bring any nonmember friends, but it was fun to be with them nonetheless.
Priesthood and Relief Society was a combined meeting the next day and I was asked to give a ten minute presentation because the entire meeting was about missionary work. The Elder`s quorum president asked me to show a clip from one of the Preach My Gospel DVD`s about working with members. I showed a clip where the missionaries help prepare a member to invite one of her friends to a gospel discussion. I then discussed how members have the responsibility to share the gospel and their testimonies with their friends. Another older member (she reminds me a lot of Grandma Rhodes) said that she has plenty of opportunities to share the gospel in natural opportunities and that she looks for them.
These are children of God....this is instruction from a living prophet. The elect are here, the elect hear His voice. It doesn`t matter where they live, they`ll listen. God is no respecter of persons. I`ve seen members refer their friends and family that get baptized here.
While I`ve faced my share of disappointments and have at times felt insufficient through my mission, when I really evaluate my mission as a whole, I`ve never felt once like the Lord was upset with me. I need to have a more positive attitude and work everyday just as excited as I was the day I entered the MTC. That`s the challenge. The work, will move forward. I`m not worried about that. God already knows what I`m going to do, all I can give is my best...the only thing that will change is how much I participate in the work so I`ll just do what I know how to. :)
I find it really fascinating that I was interested about hearing about what kind of vegetables you are growing in the garden. Doing all of your own shopping and cooking makes you appreciate food so much more. I mean, I`ve never been picky, I`ll eat anything; now I get excited at the idea of free vegetables growing out of the ground. 
It was really funny hearing from mom that a fish died in her little pond each day. I`ve always wanted to have some kind of water feature in our yard. Did you put the fish in a flower pot? That`s really Japanese. I`ve seen big Koi in tupperware outside of people`s apartments.
Well I don`t know what else to write. Please, ask questions if you have them. I hope you have a great week.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012

Transfer calls were this morning. I`m here with Elder Singleton for another 6 weeks.
We went to Himeji last week. It`s still a castle in a box but the Sakura were really pretty. They`re all completely gone now.

We taught K-san at the beginning of the week and he said before the lesson that he wanted to go to Okayama, hear the rest of the lessons from the missionaries there and be baptized there. He actually lives closer to Okayama than Ako. He didn`t want to have to go all the way to Himeji (the nearest font for our branch, and a member told him it was a bad idea to get baptized in the ocean) to get baptized. He's met with the missionaries twice over there.
We`ve spent some time in parks trying to get noticed now that the weather has gotten really nice. So far, it hasn`t worked yet. We found badminton rackets in our apartment and decided to go use them as a new method of finding. The sun was shining, so we ran out to the park, hit the birdie about twice and the birdie started going straight through one of the rackets because the strings were loose...then it started raining. It was like a bad movie.
We had a new investigator lined up to come to church, but he didn`t show up.
More pictures from Himeji:
They (the blossoms) were already dying and falling off the trees the day we went, but I love the pink snow effect.

So I got a letter from home. So apparently dad says that Japanese suits are "flanpy"? Um? I guess you mean frumpy...but if that`s what you`re saying, I think you`ve got it backwards. Japanese suits are much more sleek and slim fit. Not quite as fit for missionary work, but they look better. Japanese missionaries always smack American missionaries baggy pants and say ださい!
I also love these Disney resort adds. They just punch me in the heart.

Did I ever send the picture of the Takoyaki guys stand with these stickers on it? I`m wondering if maybe he puts them out trying to be nice to us... (click to enlarge)
Congratulations again on the graduation. It looks like a lot of fun. I was thinking "heck, you got the diploma, just take it easy and sub from now on" but I guess you need a job, huh? How long do you need it? Is there a deadline in how quickly you have to find it? I hope you can find one quickly.
I guess that`ll be all. Have a good week!

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16, 2012

Click on this fantastic photo of Elder Low to enlarge.
We are planning on going to Himeji  today so I am short on time. The Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are starting to die so this is our last chance, plus my companion wants to go see the castle in a box.
We`ve been interacting a lot with a guy that runs a takoyaki (barbequed octopus) stand on the main street here. We pass him everyday and apparently the missionaries before helped him clean his shop. We picked all of the weeds surrounding his stand (he has a small dining area behind the stand) and he was appreciative. It feels good to serve. We have to use methods like this to spread our influence out here. Basically every door has been knocked on already.
We had another student come to Eikaiwa (English Class) after finding it on the internet. As I`ve gotten farther and farther into the mission, more and more of those people have come out. The new website has been a huge help. I think it's time for the church to launch a serious campaign in Japanese on the internet. It would change everything.
We taught K san once more during the week. He`s still convinced that the church is true and wants to be baptized on the 5th. We need to really plan our lessons carefully and provide him opportunities to really feel the influence of the Holy Ghost.
We had district meeting as a zone this week. It was very good training. It`s always a spiritual experience when missionaries discuss the Atonement, especially when a convert is in the room.
I came back to Ako with Meyer 長老, our district leader who also happens to have two weeks left on his mission. He`s a good missionary.
This is a cool flower clock in front of Banshu-Ako train station.
This week we went up to Misaki to look at the Sakura (blossoms). It was so unbelievably gorgeous. I was worried that I wouldn`t be able to see Sakura like I was able to see them last year (Kiyomizudera), but Misaki had lots of them right up against the ocean. There were tons of people doing 花見 (Picnic under the blossoms). I haven`t seen that many people in one place since I`ve been here. We had a drunk guy come and take our picture and we got his information. He was in love with me and my ハ-フ (half) self.
Click on any of these photos to enlarge:

Elder Low and Elder Singleton

Here's a video of folks picnicing under the blossoms. (Note: if you're reading this in email, click here to go to the blog and see the clip.)
Sounds like Randy had a really scary experience with deer. After being in Nara, I can`t imagine a deer doing such a thing.
Well, I`m out of time. Talk to you next week!

Monday, April 9, 2012

April 9, 2012

So this week was my conference weekend. It was really great.
Here are some pictures of me doing what missionaries do every day.

Here's another picture of our branch service activity from last week. It's like I have my own personal photographer.

Here's a video of what it's like to walk into the church.
(Note: If you're reading this in email, click here to go to the blog and see the movie clip.)
Note the sign advertising free English lessons and the mini Visitor Information Center in the entrance.
There was killer wind on Tuesday. Apparently all of the major railways had hour long delays because they had to clear debris on the tracks and then some lines shut down for a little while because the wind could potentially derail some of the trains. We just happened to be riding through the mountains, exploring a new place we hadn`t been yet in our area. It took way longer than we anticipated because we kept falling off of our bikes and getting dust and who knows what else in our eyes. It was a fun adventure though.
The wind was insane. This shed is up against a power line that is keeping it from blowing into the road. We were literally blown off of our bikes and had to walk...even chase some of our stuff that flew out of my basket and into the street.
There was some crazy rain this week too. I don`t know if this video captures it.
(Note: If you're reading this in email, click here to go to the blog and see the movie clip.)
I don`t know if I wrote about him yet, but a man called the church two weeks ago saying that he wanted to be taught and that he had heard "the lessons" ten years ago. We finally met with him on Thursday this week. He`s a gardener. A really, really nice, normal man with a normal job. I can`t tell you how refreshing that is. Apparently he had read a book by a member of the church that has him convinced that the church is true. This book, however, doesn`t flatly proclaim doctrine or`s all between the lines clues.  I guess the premise of the book is how Christianity relates to ancient Japanese religion and the assumption that it`s all just a break-off from Israel that came across the silk road. I have to admit, the more I hear about it, the more fascinating it is. I`m sure there`s some sort of connection back there somewhere. Anyway, he said himself that he has already planned to be baptized on May 5. He already knows most of what we`ll teach him and seems pretty good. I`m still shocked by this one. In either case, he already has a testimony of Christ and the Book of Mormon. I`m excited to work with him. I`m always so surprised when these situations just come to me. I do NOTHING. Sometimes I even wonder if I should just stop running around looking for people to teach and instead just sit and wait for them to show up.
A view of Ako City.
We had our monthly service activity. This was our first time, of course. Apparently they go pick up garbage with 障害者(the disabled). This month was their 楽しみ会 (Celebration) to celebrate the year's end (I guess in companies and service organizations, etc. their year end is March). They had us sing a hymn with the branch president and teach them some English and then we watched them do karaoke. It was cute.
We planned on watching General Conference here in Ako since apparently they`ve done it before with headsets. Well, the branch president couldn`t figure out how to set up the headsets. We were given permission to go watch it in Kobe (the only other place that shows it in the stake) earlier in the week if we needed to so we ran home, grabbed a change of clothes and headed for Kobe, spur of the moment. The conference started at ten in Ako, but at 12 in Kobe so we rushed in at 12:15, just as President Packer started speaking so we were able to see all of conference. It was great. It was a lot of fun being with all of the other missionaries too. Basically all of the missionaries serving in the Kobe stake were there and spent the night. Elder Osaka, who is from Sagamihara and took a music class from Kathy Bell at LDSBC, was there. I lived with him in Kobe when he was there as an office elder and now he is back as an AP. He`s a blast. He`ll be in Utah in August so I`ll be seeing him a lot when I get home.
Conference was great. I loved Elder Hallstrom`s talk about the difference between the church and the gospel and the importance of being active in both. I think SO many members here need to hear that. I also loved how Elder Holland said we need to stop being "hung up on some note we hit in a childhood piano recital". I have that problem.
The whole room was whispering "David Archuleta" throughout the Saturday afternoon session. Everyone cheered when he appeared right at the end. There were a couple new missionaries in the room and they said the MTC announced that there was a celebrity coming to the MTC and to not become a distraction to anyone`s MTC study by asking for pictures and autographs. I can`t imagine what life is like for him.
I also really, really, really like Elder Andersen`s talk at the end on Sunday. The story he shared was...well...riveting. I think everyone was in tears. Just the mental image of that Haitian dad pacing around a flatened home praying for his children`s lives gives me chills.
Sounds like things are going well at home. The weather is getting good here too. The sakura are out but they`re still a little white. I feel like it`s a little bit colder this year than last year so perhaps they won`t be as spectacular. Either way, we`ll probably go to Himeji-jo (I really didn`t think I`d go back there on my mission) next week to go take pictures.
We had to walk along the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) track to visit a former investigator.
(Note: If you're reading this in email, click here to go to the blog and see the movie clip.)

(Editor's note: These trains are over 1/4 mile in length and move at speeds over 200mph.)

A nice picture of the moon from the shinkansen track we were walking next to

This was really long, but please, keep asking questions, I`m usually clueless as to what to write. Have a good week!

Monday, April 2, 2012

April 2, 2012

I got a new suit. There is a Haruyama here, but they had nothing under 2 man and the lady told me that I was かなり大きい ("quite large") so I didn`t buy anything. I went next door to Aeon and they had a one-pants suit for 7 sen (about $80) so I bought it. It`s a nice suit. It`s Japanese style, so it`s pretty tight so I will try not to ride it while I ride my bike. I will just use it on Sundays in the summer and send home my other two.

My new suit
I`m not really sure what to write about.
We rode our bikes, literally up and down a mountain again to Aioi.
My companion loves to take pictures so he`s taken a lot of me from behind while we`ve been traveling from place to place.

It`s a strange little city. It only has a population of 30,000, but the Shinkansen (bullet train) stops there for some reason. Most of the active members in the branch live there. One family owns a restaurant and refers lots of their friends and the missionaries have taught many, many lessons in their restaurant according to the area book, so we went to go see them. I`m really amazed by so many of the member families I`ve met on my mission. This family's only day off is Sunday, then they run their restaurant from 8 to 8, 6 days a week. It`s a tiny little place with regular customers. It feels more like a living room than a restaurant. It`s a cool hang out. A 12 year old from the branch came over while we were there and started playing video games with the other son. Oh, and the food was really good teshoku too.
The Primary had an onigiri (riceball) party this week and invited us because the kids all invite their friends and their moms come. It ended up being a mom gathering; we had nothing to talk about and were a little out of place. Awkward.
We went to the sea shore this week and it was really pretty.

There`s some more Sakura (cherry blossoms) slowly starting to come out.

We had a lesson with M-san. She was baptized in January and her mom has been listening to the lessons ever since December when she was first found.
We drove out to a tiny fishing village I call the "Ueda neighborhood." That's because the family nameplate on the front of every single house is "Ueda."  I guess it's a big, extended family. Yeah, they`re all a bunch of super Bukkyo (Buddhist) Japanese people that have been living on that narrow piece of land between the mountains and oceans since the beginning of time.
The Ueda Neighborhood.

No success, but it was a fun little experience. We`ve been scouting out apartment complexes (they`re very few here, but young people and young families are much more likely to live in them) but tried to do something different. One lady in the neighborhood had the Splash Mountain poster from Tokyo Disneyland we have in our computer room hanging in her genkan (entry hall). I freaked out. She called out and asked us to open the door. I opened my mouth to say who I was, but noticed the poster and immediately started talking about it. She laughed. She was also very Buddhist.
This probably isn`t as funny as it was in person, but it was hysterical. Daigo is 17 and we play ping-pong with him and his dad (Elder`s quorum president and dendo shunin -mission leader) once a week. These two (the branch president`s grandkids) came and joined us.(Click here to go to the website and watch the video)
Your questions, my answers:
Q:How’s the weather? Still cold?
A: It`s probably similar to what you`re reporting. It`s jumping all over the place. It`s very inconvenient to not hear the weather forecast. It`s very warm one day and cold the next. I never know whether to put a sweater on or not.
Q: Does Ako have some decent places to eat? What about a McDonalds or MisDo (Mister Donut)?
A: It has a Jusco. As far as decent restaurants, I haven`t really been to a good one yet. There is one McDonalds and a MisDo inside the Jusco. I went to MisDo today actually.
Q: Is your bike holding together? Any flat tires?
A: It`s going to be girigiri (hanging on for dear life) finishing the mission. I get flat tires all the time and it`s a pain.
Q: How’s your reading ability? Can read Japanese OK?
A: I need to work on that. My companion is only on his 5th transfer (same as my bin-chan, Nukaya Choro) and can read twice as many Kanji as me. He spends every spare moment he can looking at flash cards. I`ve just never been good at getting myself to really nesshin ni (seriously) study the characters. I just listen and mimic.
This is a rock course at a park near us. You're supposed to walk on it barefoot. It is supposed to be really good for your circulation. Certain rocks are supposed to be like a massage if you have good health, hurt if you have bad health. The whole thing felt like torture to me, so I should probably go see a doctor I suppose...


It sounds like it was a good week at home. This will be my 4th General Conference as a missionary and possibly my last. I may be seeing the October Conference here as well since I`ll still be here. I will go nearly 25 months as a missionary.
For some reason, your anniversary reminds me of a question I am asked a lot and now really find fushigi myself since learning Japanese. Do you two EVER speak to each other in Japanese?! Did you ever before? Isn`t that bizarre? Whenever I talk to someone in detail about the fact that both of my parents speak Japanese, I am always told もったいない ("What a waste").
I just saw on that President Stevenson was made the Presiding Bishop. He`ll be missed. I never got to meet him, but it seems like he`s done a really, really good job as the Area President, especially during the earthquake. I hope the next area president is also a Japanese speaker...I guess that`s a little inconsiderate of the Koreans...
I guess that`ll be all. See you next week!