Tuesday, May 29, 2012
This is the last week of my first transfer! Crazy, right? It doesn't seem like time is going by very fast until I think about how little time I have left in Japan compared to the rest of my life. It makes me want to work harder so I can say I served every day well. Still working on that, though.
A HUGE thanks to everyone who sent me such encouraging letters and emails this week! It really means a lot to hear from people who love and support me. I don't have time to thank you all individually, but you're the best!
I have a couple things to write about, but first: Long family: congratulations on your first baby chicken! So cute! I have a lot of fun memories raising baby chicks.
Second: when is Benjamin's baptism?? I'm bummed that I'll miss it, but be sure to send me photos and tell Benjamin I'm so proud! As a missionary, I can say with confidence that baptism is one of the first steps in a long life full of miracles. Good luck!
Speaking of family photos, I'd like to request more from you! I carry around my photo album to introduce myself to the Japanese (church members especially love looking at it) and this week I realized I don't have a photo of the family all together. Maybe the one of us in the backyard all wearing black? Or any other photos you'd like to send---typical Las Vegas activities, our pets, your hobbies, anything fun that I can talk about with the people here. If you sent them already printed by snail mail that would be SUPER convenient! Our P-day time is short as it is (especially today because we went to the Tokyo temple) so saving me a trip to print photos would be the best :)
Let's see...this week I introduced Ohsugi Shimai to zucchini! I couldn't believe she'd never tried it before, but now it's like her favourite thing ever. She said it looks like a cucumber but tastes like eggplant. She keeps asking me when we cook, "Do you think zucchini would taste good in this?" I'm glad I could add another vegetable to her repertoire, because she likes to eat the same exact things all the time. I'm cooking a lot more of food I like now---and taking more initiative on things in general, which makes me feel more comfortable here but I can tell Ohsugi Shimai doesn't realy like it. We're trying to find a good balance between me learning to be a good missionary and learning that I don't have to be a missionary exactly like her. I saw Wylie Shimai at the temple and it was SO FUN sharing stories about our tough experiences! I really miss having a companion that was my best friend. People keep telling me having a native companion is such a blessing but most of the time it feels more like a court sentence. I guess it's one of those blessings that becomes more obvious in retrospect.
Anyway, the spiritual message (reiteki na messeji) I have for you this week is about---what else?---the Book of Mormon! I've always really liked the Book of Mormon but recently I have fallen even more in love with it. The word of God truly does "heal the wounded soul" (Jacob 2:8). Not only do I find tremendous comfort and counsel in its pages, I find tidbits of wisdom that can help me and my investigators become more Christlike. The Book of Mormon is such a strong testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ---it's no wonder we missionaries carry it around and show it to everyone as our message to the world. Recently I've even enjoyed reading the infamous "Alma war chapters." Maybe it's because I have absolutely no other source of entertainment, but the war stories have become so interesting to me! I can vividly picture Lord of the Rings-esque battles going on and each of the powerful characters are so clearly defined (still an English major). The message of the Book of Mormon is a simple one, told over and over again: when you follow God you are blessed, and when you allow worldly things to become more important than God then bad things happen; but there is a way to fix that, and it's through faith in Jesus Christ.
Thank you to everyone who's telling me about all the busy goings-on at home, but you haven't told me about anything that's REALLY important! How is your dendo (missionary work) going? Have you invited families to dinner with the missionaries/friends to church activities? Who? How'd it go? What are you learning in seminary? What was the best part of sacrament meeting this week? What cool insights did you find in your personal study this morning? Telling me about life back at home is fun, but sharing with me your spiritually uplifting experiences instead of just things that keep you busy will help me be a better missionary. Better missionaries focus on the work, they invite the Spirit every minute of the day, and they don't let discouragement keep them from having faith in Christ. Please help me be that better missionary by sending me emails that will uplift!
I love you all and hope you're doing your best!
Oh, PS---last week a student in my English class brought me a kimono to try on! It's a sporty kimono used for...judo I think? Some activity where they fight each other with huge sticks. The photo I have isn't great quality, but I hope you enjoy it!
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Brittany answers Mum's questions:
- How far away from you is the Tokyo temple? Will you get to go? How often?
- What kind of food are you eating? Do members feed you?
- What is your companion like? How good is her English? How are you communicating?
- How are you doing with your discussions? Does your comp let you teach at all?
- Are you driving, walking, riding bikes? All 3?
- What is your mission pres like? When will you get a new one?
- How is your tummy feeling?
- How was your first church Sunday?
- How many missionaries are native japanese there?
- Ok I'll stop with 10 questions…. What is the weather there like now?
My area right now, Matsudo, is about an hour and a half away from the Tokyo temple by train. We get to go once every transfer, so that's every six weeks! Pretty cool. Also, next week a general authority (a Seventy I'm pretty sure) is coming to speak to us, so all the Tokyo missionaries are traveling to a building right next to the temple to listen. That will be exciting, because I'll get to see my MTC friends ("doki"s).
2. The food here has been pretty good so far. Predictably, Ohsugi Shimai and I eat a lot of rice and noodles. She loves to cook meat and I love to cook vegetables, so between the two of us we eat pretty well. One thing I LOVE about Japanese food is that with every meal you have a small bowl of soup, usually a simple broth with onions, tofu, or mushrooms. All the food I've had here has been delicious (with one exception---I don't like the taste of seaweed at all).
The church members feed us 2-3 times a week. Last night we had a really fun meal with the Nishimura family. Remember how at Beni Hana's the chef said the Japanese don't actually do hibachi cooking? WELL, our meal went like this: each person had a bowl of soup, a tiny bowl of sauce, and a plate of fried rice, and in the middle they had a big round grill (sort of like your pancake griddle but in a circle). Also on the table was a huge plate of thinly sliced raw beef and another plate of raw vegetables---asparagus, onions, peppers, mushrooms, cabbage, a bunch of good stuff. The father oiled the grill and everyone using their own chopsticks cooked whatever they wanted to eat! It was super cool! They even covered the table in newspaper to catch oil spills. Sounds like a fun FHE activity, right? It was casual and easy and I had a great time. Everyone I meet here compliments me on my ability to use chopsticks.
3. My companion Ohsugi Shimai is a good missionary. She thinks one of the most important parts of missionary work is making friends with our investigators and helping them be fellowshipped into the ward. I have a hard time being anyone's friend because the language makes it difficult to get to know them, but I can always have a friendly smile. 4. Ohsugi Shimai is great about encouraging me to participate equally in the lessons. They're all split into sections, so she has me to a simple introduction of the main points and then backs me up and answers any questions. Her English is not great. We almost always speak in Japanese---and charades---which is good for me to learn but frustrating too. It's such a relief when we meet up with American missionaries and they can translate for me what's actually going on! Definitely the hardest part of having a native companion is that when we socialize with other Japanese people no one ever pauses to make sure I understand. It's embarassing when people ask me questions and I can only understand one word in their sentence. One good thing about Japanese though is that questions always end in the "ka" sound so you can identify them clearly. In English it's harder for a non-native speaker to tell when they're being spoken to! So I can empathize.
5. We use all sorts of transportation: bus, train, bike, and walking (and sometimes driving if a member offers). It depends on the weather, how far we're going, and whether we're carrying anything.
6. My mission president is GREAT! He is so loving and works so hard. Unfortunately he and his wife are going home in July, but I hear the new one is just as hard-working and will push us to reach all our goals for the mission.
7. I haven't had any huge problems with my ulcer acting up again (I'm way too young to be saying that!), but if I over-eat or have too much meat or fat (usually I like to eat the least amount possible to be polite) then I get uncomfortable. Mostly though I've been fine. Thanks for the concern! You asked about my weight a couple weeks ago but I'm not sure how to answer. The scale we have in our apartment is in kilograms so I have no idea if I'm doing well or not! Missionaries exercise every morning, though, and we get plenty of exercise throughout the day. From doing yoga consistently and riding a bike so much, you should see the size of my calf muscles.
8. My first Sunday was just as overwhelming as every day! I met tons of new people, forgot all their names, and didn't understand much, but I can tell you the church is true all over the world! The gospel of Jesus Christ is being taught here, and since I learned MTC vocabulary first, when people talk about the gospel is when I can follow conversation most. Matsudo Ward is really interesting. It's the biggest ward in the Tokyo mission, and I don't know if it's just the area or if it's indicative of Japanese LDS in general, but there are a TON of young families in the ward. Everybody has a ton of babies and young children. Sacrament meeting, predictably, is quite loud! I really like the Japanese kids though. They're super precious, and I can't understand them any better than I can the older people, but they are super friendly and love missionaries. Leave it to the Japanese to change my mind about kids!
9. As far as native vs. non-native missionaries in Tokyo, I'm not sure, but in my own zone it's about half and half. We have two Brazilians, maybe six Americans, and probably another eight Japanese missionaries. I've heard the ratio is higher in other Japan missions because all the missionaries come from Tokyo to go to other areas!
10. The weather right now is GORGEOUS! The Japanese people talk about the weather a lot but aren't happy with it most of the time---it's too hot, it's too cold, it's too rainy, it's too dry, etc. They love sunny days because then they do laundry. I have really loved the weather every day. We've gotten a few rainstorms and an equal portion of cloudy and sunny days. I hear that next month it's going to rain all the time, and after that is peak hot and humid season, so ask me again at the end of the summer how I feel about Japan weather!
Sorry I don't have any photos to share yet. Next week for sure. I don't carry my camera around with me because our Missionary Handbook says to avoid looking like tourists, but on P-days it's okay. For now, you can Google "Tokyo" or "Matsudo" and get a picture of where I am! I think Japan is beautiful, and all the tiny little houses are SO neat. I wish I could read more signs. Everything is in kanji so my companion translates for me (especially in train stations).
That's all I have time for, I think! I'm glad to hear that all of your activities are going well, especially gospel-related ones! You're all in my prayers. This week, pay special attention to little miracles that happen to you every day. When I'm working hard and feeling discouraged, if I stop to notice my blessings it helps me so much to be reassured that Heavenly Father is taking care of me and wants me to succeed. The more we notice our blessings, the more blessings it seems we're getting.
Take care. I love you!
One member went to Hokkaido to buy a bunch of fish for a special dinner for me...yikes. I'm a good missionary, though; to make up for not speaking their language, I eat whatever they put in front of me. Last Monday night we had a seafood extravaganza: crab, sashimi (raw salmon), raw shrimp, raw squid (only thing I didn't try), raw sea urchin guts, and abalone (a kind of shellfish that was weirdly crunchy). There wasn't anything I liked (except rice of course), just varying degrees of tolerable-ness. Sase Shimai also made a pork dish for me in case I didn't like the seafood, but I ended up liking it even less! After being vegetarian for so long, I've really just lost the taste for eating animal flesh. It's yucky and if given the choice (i.e. buffet-style meal or something) I avoid it and people usually don't notice. People here don't serve many vegetables besides salad, so it's an adjustment, but after the MTC food I can handle anything!
The other tidbit I have for everyone is ways you can all be mini-missionaries! Here in Tokyo we're emphasizing getting members involved in our efforts because they are so much more successful that way. Street contacting and tracting results in a baptism less than one in 1,000 times, but member friends get baptized 1 in 8. That's awesome! Here are some small ways you can make a difference:
1. Read your Book of Mormon in public. If people ask about it, introduce the church to them.
2. Always have an extra Book of Mormon in your car, your locker, workplace, etc. so you never miss a sharing opportunity.
3. Invite friends, teachers, or co-workers to FHE. Make FHE fun and meaningful so people will want to start FHE with their own families.
4. Invite friends to participate in ward service activities.
5. Invite your friends to search LDS websites.
6. Invite friends to take a tour of the church or family history library. See if they are interested and explain geneology.
7. Attend sports activities of friends and neighbours' families. Let them know you care about them and look for opportunities to share the gospel.
8. Donate copies of the Book of Mormon to the local library.
9. Proactively think of ways you as a family can share the gospel. Use time during FHE to plan the week's missionary activities.
10. Don't be embarrassed to be a member of the Church! Always let others know who you are.
11. Set a personal or family goal of how many individuals you will introduce to the church this year or how many less active families you will visit this month. Pray to Heavenly Father for help to recognize those in need. You may want to dedicate a Fast Sunday to family missionary activites.
That's the list we pass around to members here in Japan, and it can be just as effective in America! The US is buzzing right now with hype about Mormonism; use this chance to tell people you know what we believe and how it can help them. A great FHE activity is practicing explaining the Book of Mormon to others. Using the pictures at the front, briefly tell its history and how it helps bring people closer to Christ and true happiness. The Book of Mormon is one of my favourite things to teach about in Japanese. I'd love for you to be more involved with it at home!
I know what you're thinking (yes, you): how am I supposed to fit visiting less actives or going to other people's activities when I don't have time for my own? Here's the secret: when you are engaged in the Lord's work, He gives that time right back to you. The same principle applies all over our lives: for example, if you sacrifice time in the morning for seminary, you do better on tests that day, or if you stay up an extra half hour to read scriptures and pray you sleep better, or if you spend two years of your life as a missionary the next sixty will be that much more blessed. President Eyring said "You cannot give a crust to the Lord without Him giving you a loaf in return." When we sacrifice our own time on behalf of others---especially for something so important as sharing the gospel---we see our own time and talents magnified. Don't believe me? Try it out. Put it into action for a while and observe the results. The Lord keeps His promises.
Well, I hope you have a happy week, family! I'm grateful for Jesus Christ and His Atonement in my life, and I'm that much more grateful I get to help others here realize how important it is. I love you and pray for you every night to make good choices and prioritize the important things in life. You can do it!
Ai shite imasu,
Long Shimai C: