Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mission Letter 12/29/2014

Hello, everybody!

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and will soon be having a Happy New Year. Here in the Taiwan Taipei Mission, we had a pretty awesome Christmas day. We had a multi-zone Zone Conference at the Mission Headquarters. They gave us trainings, food, and presents!

We were at the Headquarters from 9 AM until 6 PM that day. They trained us on "the tools we have as missionaries," "recognizing the Spirit," and "Chinese New Year," along with a few other things. They also gave us an amazing, as close to traditional American as possible, lunch: turkey (Sister Day, our 'mission mom' made 15 different 20 pound turkeys in the days leading up to this activity), mashed potatoes, stuffing, cookies, fruits, salad, and cranberry juice: it was simply amazing, so delicious... I think most of everything probably came from the Costco around here...

They trained us on Guonian, or Chinese New Year. Guonian is a time where everybody (literally, the entire island) celebrates the New Year of the Lunar Calendar. It's a period of time where, for about 6 days, everybody evaporates from the street and goes to their hometown (usually) to celebrate. It's a time where, for like a month beforehand, everyone that you try to talk to tells you, "come back after Guonian." It's a time where all the stores are closed (so they suggest we have 72 hour kits before then). It's a time where, if you haven't planned beforehand, you're going to have an extremely ineffective week, because there is absolutely no one around. I don't know how New York compares to Taipei, but that's the connection my brain imagines (it might be way off), but imagine that city with absolutely no people on the road or sidewalks, or stores, for like, 6 days. That's how they described Guonian to us. So excited for that... Lots of planning to do.

I also got to Skype home this week! It was wonderful to talk to my family for 40 minutes. Not much to say about that other than that it was awesome.

Recently, my Chinese has really been improving. Here in the mission, they have a language learning program prepared for us. It's split into 3 Phases: Phase 1 is gospel vocabulary, Phase 2 is regular vocabulary (2000 words on flashcards) and Phase 3 is Chinese Characters. I recently finished Phase 1, which took a while, and then I started Phase 2 on Christmas. But I've discovered I really like flashcards; it's a really good way that I learn by (is that good English? I can't tell anymore). So I'm already to like, card 800. It's like all I do in my free time. It's really helpful.

We had our last Christmas Choir performance in Neihu which went excellently, but that also happens to be where my aunt lives. So she came, and watched the performance, and also brought me a whole bunch of food and a scarf and then started asking what else did I lack? It was also really cool, because I was able to talk to her, in Chinese. I've never been able to talk to her before, because she doesn't speak English, so that was a really cool experience. She said, "Wow! You're speaking Chinese! Now we need your dad to learn Chinese."

So, this week was pretty wonderful. Didn't have a lot of time, but had a lot of things to do.

Because Christmas just passed, I'm still going to take advantage of it being about that time of year. A scripture that I share a lot with people is John 3:16-17. 

 16 ¶For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Why is this so important? Why does God love us so much? Romans 8:16.

 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

God loves us so much, no matter what we're going through, or what's not happening in our lives that we would like, he wants to help us. Everything we experience, I really believe, good and bad, has a purpose. Has a reason in our lives; it will somehow change us. It just might take some time to change personal attitudes, and recognize what you can do personally, to make things better, or to improve yourself.

I hope you all have the most wonderful week ever! I probably will. :D

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mission Letter 12/22/2014

Merry Christmas, everybody!

I hope you're all having the wonderful Christmas spirit around! It is a totally different atmosphere here. Very un-Christmassy, because people have work (they almost have infinite eternal work schedules here), and they don't actually celebrate Christmas (most people) for any reason other than Santa Clause.

Not much actually happened this week, we didn't have a ton of time. We had many choir performances, taking us all over the city of Taipei. In one day, we had one at the southern most point of the metro line, and one at the northernmost point of the metro line. So, lots of travel time, lots of performances, but they were all pretty good performances.

We had the best performance of all on Saturday, in my ward that I'm currently serving in. Because they're so pleased they have a brand new church, they made the grandest thing I've ever seen. They invited the local high school band to come and play, and they did excellent. Then they had the missionaries sing, they had an ocarina group play, they had special sounds, lighting, a stage background (they made a rock wall background, with shrubbery kinda like Israel, I guess), videos, a Master of Ceremonies, and it was all just very professional.



We also had the most low class performance yet. It was the equivalent of a 30 missionary choir caroling, because the ward took us outside to a street side, right by a bus stop (and a freeway on a bridge over top), and it was loud, and we had this hilariously sad little keyboard with pretty bad sounds, and a few people were walking past, but not many stopped, and the ward handed out tracts, and it was cold, and a hilarious experience. But I guess, one we'll never forget.

The new missionaries are still having problems. They got one group after me in, one transfer delayed, and the next ones and the ones after them are having problems, too. The Taizhong Mission is also waiting on two transfers of missionaries, so they're working really hard to solve all these problems. Anyway.

Next week we have our Christmas Zone Conference and Talent Show. This Sister in my transfer and I are doing a parody of a song from Frozen, in missionary context. Instead of asking to build a snowman, the question we pose is, "Do you want a Book of Mormon?" It's going to be hilarious. Anyway... random thoughts for all of you to read today.

This morning I was doing personal study, and I read this scripture. I really like it. It's one of Christ's parables, about humility. It's a really important attribute to have, and it talks about it in Preach My Gospel a bit. And this scripture is just a perfect representation of it. 

 7 ¶And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them,
 8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
 9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
 10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room;that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee,Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
 11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Something I've noticed with a lot of parables is that one, it's a good story with a good moral, two, it has good practical application in life, and three, it can be related to the kingdom of God, or how God works and will work in the future. Following this advice can save us future embarrassment, it teaches us that humility is one of the most valuable character traits, and that when we are humble, got will help us and raise us up. As promised in Ether 12:27, He will "make weak things become strong unto [us]."

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! And a Happy New Year! Have a great week.

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mission Letter 12/15/2014

Hello, everybody!

It's been a wonderful week here in Taiwan. Pretty busy, too. Not much time to do a whole lot of things, because all weekend long we were at the Mission Office area, performing in our Missionary Christmas Choir performances. The (I think one and only) English ward here in Taipei had a Nativity Pageant that they do every year. It's quite a grand scale, too; they have props, costumes, a rather large set, an ascending and descending angel (a person on a lift), and they ran the whole thing like a professional theatre production with a little typical Mormon twist--30 minutes behind schedule. Which, when you're a missionary, you suddenly feel so ineffective, sitting there, watching them rehearse, just waiting for the two songs you sing at the very end. But it's about a 40 minute production with a choir (singing all in English, of course) and narration, in English and translated into Chinese. It's an impressive performance. Over the past weekend, they had three performances. It was fun to watch and participate in.

I got my Christmas package from my family this week. It made me very happy. Especially because it had some American foods in it: Pringles and some chocolates. However, the package was a little big to fit in my bike box. After taking it to where our bikes were on the Metro (because the metro doesn't go into our area, there's a station about a 20 minute bike ride from our house), we were like, this is going to be fun. Thankfully, my companion's bike box is a little bit bigger, and it just barely fit (almost perfectly) into his box, and he helped me get it home.



So, me and my companion had a baptism this past Friday. In our brand new chapel; it's the first time we've used this chapel for a baptism (not the first baptism, because our ward has 3 sets of missionaries, and some of the others have had them here before, but we hadn't). And let me tell you; it's an extremely hilarious story about how... well...

So, the church has a water heater. But heating water is expensive; so we only turn it on for baptisms, and then off again. About one week prior to ours, the Sisters had a baptism. They turned the switch to "auto" which turns the heat on (there are three positions: "off", "auto", and "on"). On the control box, there are also two lights: On, and Off. If the water is being heated, the On light is illuminated; if the water is already at temperature, then the Off light is illuminated. When the switch is on "auto," the water heats to 65 C, and maintains it. When the switch is on "on," the water heater just keeps heating, continuously. 

After the Sisters baptism, they forgot to turn the switch to "off." So when we showed up, I saw the switch on "auto" and the Off light illuminated. So (all the above information I didn't know at the time), I just switched it to "On" for the baptism, two hours prior to when we wanted to fill the font. Then we went to dinner for an hour. 

When we came back, I looked at the temperature gauge. It had heated the water to 95 C (203 F). I freaked out and turned the switch to "Off," and called the District Leader. He's said, "Well, you can start filling the font, and then drain some and add more cold water to get it to the right temperature." So we went to the font and opened the levers to start filling it.

Our investigator had already arrived by this time. She was early, like always. So she got to watch us prepare her sauna. I opened the lever to fill the font, and water spurted out. Then the water stopped, there was an awful sound, a bad smell, and then steam started pouring out of the faucet; no water. Just steam. So I freaked out again, and turned off the lever. We waited for the District Leader to arrive, and he turned it back on. This time, water came out, and because it was so hot, it was steaming up the entire font, too. It fogged the mirror, the glass, and started to create a cloud from the ceiling down, in the bathroom and the Primary room, where the font is. All of a sudden, all the fire alarms in the building start going off, either from the heat or the cloud of water vapor.

Now, a little background. This is a brand new church. The Open House and Dedication was to be held the next day; so there was a large number of members in the basement preparing food, and just preparing the building in general to be open to the public. Now, imagine if you will, a fire alarm starts sounding, there are lights flashing, and a voice with the alarm saying, "Evacuate! Evacuate!" I can only imagine what happened in the basement. So the District Leader ran down to the first floor to deactivate the alarm, and someone else got on the building announcement system (yes, some chapels here have those) and said, "Don't worry, no fire, it's just the baptismal font."

Eventually we drained all the hot water from the tank (it only fills about half the baptismal font, and then cold water will start to fill). We drained some of the lava and put in more cold water, and got the water back to a regular temperature in time. So, everything worked out in the end. But we had quite the story from it.

Recently I've started reading the New Testament (I just finished the Book of Mormon. My mission president wants us all to read the standard works and the missionary library during our missions at least once). It's quite nice; here in Taiwan, sometimes the Bible is ignored and they only use the more "recent" stuff.

But I was reading in Matthew 6, and there's some verses I really like:

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I also read the parable in Matthew 18, about the king and his servant who owed him money here (at lds.org). It just emphasizes how important forgiveness is. It's uber important! We're supposed to become like Christ. As I have been studying the gospels, I've been amazed at how Christ always acted. It occasionally mentions that he will go somewhere, and try not to let everyone know, but they'll all come to him, and he has so much compassion on everyone, he refuses to send them away, but instead teaches them and performs miracles. The miracles with the loaves and fishes happened because all the people followed him far from their homes, and he didn't want to send them away hungry because he was worried they might "faint by the wayside." So, because of his compassion and love to all people, he would work many miracles; he was always so kind, always doing good, forgiving people.

Sometimes we feel that we've had an injustice done to us. But, I remember a talk from the past Conference which says, everything's already been righted because Christ has already suffered for every injustice in this world. So that reminds me of one last scripture, in the Doctrine and Covenants:

9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

If we think we've been offended, it's not necessarily our job to give out punishment or make someone else "pay for their wrong." Because we are to forgive all; Heavenly Father is a much better judge than we are.

This is my email for this week. It's longer because I have more time; choir rehearsals have ended, so we have the full email time now. I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mission Letter 12/8/2014

Merry Christmas Season, everyone!

Taiwan is anything but Christmasy. Literally, a contacting method here is, "Do you know why we celebrate Christmas?" "Santa Clause?" "Presents?" "Shopping?" "No, actually, it's Jesus Christ's Birthday," and that the starting point of the contact. I was amazed by the number of people here who don't even know why we celebrate Christmas, despite it's Chinese translation being "Holy Birth Day."

Here in Taiwan, we have a weekly free English class at every chapel. Most places have Beginner's, Intermediate, and Advanced classes. So, in order to get more people at our classes, our entire mission also does "English Boarding," which is standing on a corner or something similar to that for 2 hours per week, handing out tracts/fliers about our English class. And now that it's Christmas season, this past week, we stood on a busy corner and went Caroling, with one missionary hurriedly rushing around, trying to give tracts to everyone that walks by. Because this is a very un-traditional (in Taiwan) activity, there were some stares, and some people who thought it was funny or intriguing. But it's okay, because we're the odd "white-foreigners" so we can do whatever we want.

Our Missionary Choir performances started this past week. It's about a 50 min performance of music and spoken parts telling the story of the Nativity, that we go around a whole bunch of wards in the Taipei area, performing for them. There's about 30 missionaries involved in the choir. It's a lot of fun, for us missionaries; we get to see a lot of places and use music to do missionary work. Because we all just love music, too. It just gives us even more of a boost to do what we do. 

The new missionaries with visa problems arrived this week! They were supposed to be here one month and a half ago. But we are very happy and grateful they arrived. The December missionaries who were supposed to arrive last week will hopefully arrive around Christmas time; otherwise it will also probably be another month and a half for them.

We have our first investigator from our new area who is going to be baptized this week! Her baptism is scheduled for this Friday. She's been doing so well recently, she's basically a member already. After her baptismal interview, the Sisters in our ward had another baptism that she attended because she was already there (so that means she's attended two before her own baptism), and she even said the opening prayer. So we basically consider her a member, because she also came to Stake Conference yesterday, and attended the Young Single Adult activity, and stayed... until the Jin Hua Ward (1 hour from where she lives) Christmas Choir performance... and then the New Member Fireside. So, many hours. She also asked me to baptize her, which I'm very excited for.

The church has this wonderful "initiative" going right now, I don't know if you've seen it yet. It's here: http://www.mormon.org/christmas And it's just a wonderful, wonderful thing. It has been very useful to us missionaries when we talk to people, because there a video on there (that I encourage everyone to watch) that helps us introduce to people the real meaning of Christmas. It's extremely effective, and has been such an amazing tool to us. The mission here is also making a big push for every member to post it on their Facebook's so that everyone can see this video (which I also encourage you to do). In the first week this video was out, it had 5,000,000 views. It's has such a wonderful message. The website also has the Nativity story, using both scriptural texts and more "modern" English, that tells the Christmas story so well. So this week, I would "Invite" (that's something we do with every person we visit, member or investigator) to explore the website, and share it. The three parts to this "initiative" is Discover, Embrace, and Share, so, do it! It's a wonderful video. Go watch it. Now.

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mission Letter 12/1/2014

Hello, everybody!

I've hope you've been having a wonderful week, I certainly have. It's been like Summer over here; it's still extraordinarily warm and sunny, and it's still short sleeve weather. Until today. Today winter came. All at once. It's raining, it's much colder, and there's no sun to be seen anywhere. But I'm sure tomorrow winter will end. If this is winter, I don't want to know how hut summer is going to be.

This place is just beautiful, and very much (on weekends) a tourist place. On weekends, along this bike path, about 1 in 10,000,000 actually lives in our area, so we just kinda go into the deeper city area where there are also people, but who actually live in our area.




"Wow! You're Chinese is very standard!" Doesn't sound much like a complement, does it? But that's what it is in Chinese. I guess they're trying to say that we (mostly my companion) seem to know the regular, standard Chinese vocabulary. But it's pretty cool -- I'm starting to understand a good portion of what people say on the street now. But at other times, I understand about 0%. So, still working on it.

This week we had an extremely special experience. It included a family, us missionaries, and then a white guy from who-know's-where-but-probably-America. I thought I had escaped anti-Mormon's when I left America and went to a place where they don't even speak English, so they don't really here all the bad stuff about Mormons. And I was mostly right. We were talking to this family on the street, and they were in a rush, so it was a very quick contact, but we gave them a tract and asked if we could meet with them some other day. They said sure, so we were about to swap phone numbers. 

All of a sudden, here comes this big white guy from behind us saying, "No, no! They're not telling you the truth! They're a cult! I used to be one of them!" This was all in English, however. So, after interrupting that contact, he had his (I think) wife come translate for him (she's Taiwanese). She reluctantly came over and told the family the things we were saying weren't true (she looked like she didn't care about her husband's opinions, she was just doing what he told her to say). The family looked at us, and said, "Sorry, we've got to go," and left. Then the man turned to us, and started telling us nothing we knew was true. "This book," he reached for our Book of Mormon, "hasn't got one thread of truth in it!" Then he started quoting Galatians to us, about preaching some different gospel, and then went back to the fact that the Book of Mormon has absolutely zero evidence. "I can prove the Israelites existed," he said. And all I was thinking was, there must be some threads you agree with in here, because it's literally almost the same as the Bible. Anyway. Who knows why he left the church. We just kinda ended the contact and walked away because he wasn't letting us say anything -- he was kinda worked up. 

Anyway. There's a scripture that I think is really cool. It happens to be in the Book of Mormon. I came across this a while ago, and marked it because I think it's a small thing compared to the story it's in, but has a lot of applicable parts. It's in Mosiah 26:33, and it reads:

 33 And it came to pass when Alma had heard these words he wrote them down that he might have them, ...

And I really like this scripture because it emphasizes the importance of writing things down. As a missionary, I write a lot of things down. Schedules, lessons, what we're going to teach, writing records, baptismal records, teaching records, progress records, weekly reports to the Mission President, this weekly email, to-do lists, and a study journal. All this is so that nothing I do slips through the cracks.

But the most important of those is the Study Journal. While I was in the MTC, they emphasized this on an almost weekly basis at our devotionals, was the importance of having a good study journal. Elder Richard G. Scott once said, "Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. This practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light" (from Preach My Gospel). As we receive guidance, revelation, or new insights, particularly when reading scriptures, we ought to write them down so that we can have them, because no one's memory is perfect. Writing down inspiration demonstrates to the Lord that we think it's important, and we want to remember it, and implement it in our lives. 

So, write things down. Personally, anytime I sit down to read scriptures, I like to have a notepad open, kinda demonstrating, "I'm ready and prepared for anything you send."

Anyways, I hope you all have a wonderful week! 

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mission Letter 11/24/2014

Hello, everybody!

Me and my companion finally moved into our area this week! One of my tripanionship companions got a new companion, so they split us up. They found us a new apartment, and we've been making it very comfy (and clean, because I can't stand my last apartment and I'm determined this one won't become like it). It's a very nice 5th floor apartment, and because missionaries have literally just the essentials, it looks very empty. But nice. So I'm back to a regular companionship, and we now can spend the full week in our area.

I also had the strangest dream this week, one of the first dreams I've remembered on my mission, too. I was in my family van, kinda waking up, so a little groggy. It was after my mission, because we were driving away from the airport where my family had just barely picked me up. It was the year 2017, but the strangest thing was that... I couldn't remember anything from the past 18 months of my mission. I could only remember the first 6, which is where I'm almost to right now. So I started to panic a little. I asked Dad in the car what happened during those last 18 months, and he said, "Oh, it was great! You had an awesome mission. Your weekly letters were good, and your converts are doing well." I thought, what am I going to talk about during my homecoming talk on Sunday if I can't remember my own mission! So I took my Mom's phone and started re-reading my mission letters to try and jog my memory, but it wasn't working. So I started to panic, and I decided, I must be dreaming. So I slapped myself. I didn't wake up. So then my heart really started to beat, because I thought, "I slept through my whole mission! Two years and I ignored all of it!" And that's where the dream ended. Yes, it was weird, but pretty funny.

On a totally different note, I had the opportunity to baptize one of the Sister Missionaries in our ward's converts this past week. We showed up to the baptismal service, and about 15 minutes prior to the starting time, I discovered that the person who was supposed to baptize wasn't able to that night. And so, because I was the only one there who hadn't baptized anyone before, they decided to give me the opportunity (because no matter who got wet, no one had a change of dry clothes). I then had to memorize the prayer in Chinese in about 10 minutes, and then I baptized their 14 year old convert. That was an amazing, really cool experience. So, that's the first person I've baptized on my mission, even though she wasn't someone we taught. But we have someone that we found in our area a couple weeks ago, who is scheduled for December 13. We think she will make her date, which makes us very excited. It's awesome.

There's a scripture that I really like in The Book of Mormon. It's in 1 Nephi, Chapter 11.

 1 For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.

There are many things that can be learnt from this one verse, from the example of Nephi. Of course, we know that Nephi was the most "in tune" with the Lord, I guess. He was always teaching his brothers and his family, and he was always receptive to what his Father, the prophet, was teaching them. But Nephi also relied on the Spirit to confirm the truths that he was taught.

This is something that in the most recent General Conference, they talked about "the confirming power of the Holy Ghost," because "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." Something we teach everyone in our contacts is that through the Holy Ghost we can come to know truth, and that's how they can decide whether our message is true or not.

But that's not the point that I was originally trying to make with this scripture. It is that, Nephi, first of all, was receptive. He sat, and he listened, and he learned. Then he had faith that the Lord could make these things known unto him. Finally, he sat "pondering in mine heart," and that's when he was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord to greater learning. 

We're always taught that the steps of scripture study are Search, Ponder, and Pray. We usually pray to start and end out of habit, and then we read in between, but how often do we sit there and ponder the things we've read? Do we throughout the day think back to the things we've read? I know that I very often, don't. That I didn't before my mission, and that it's something that I'm working on, because it opens another door to revelation. This is where the Holy Ghost can speak directly to us, about matters that we're personally dealing with.

I'm glad to be a missionary. It's a wonderful experience, watching people progress and change their lives.

And I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Sincerely,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mission Letter 11/17/2014

Hello, everybody!

So, it's been a good week. Still trying to cover to areas with the manpower of one and a half. That's okay, except that we have stay together, so we spend half the week in each area. We get by. We actually had an investigator at church from both areas, so that was very nice.

Funny story. So, as you might know, I am half Taiwanese. Which is very interesting, coming to Taiwan. Because I get one of two reactions from all the natives. For starters, everyone that looks at me, knows I'm Asian. This is where the responses to that information begins to differ. 1) People will ask me, "So, are you Korean or Japanese?" Never Taiwanese, except on the rarest occasion. I wonder which of my features seem Korean or Japanese. 2) The other response is, "Oh he looks Asian, so he totally knows Chinese." At which point they will walk up to me and start talking in Chinese or asking questions, completely ignoring my 1-year-9-month companion who knows Chinese way better, because they think I'll understand better than my companion. They kinda realize I'm not Chinese when I just stare back at them with my jaw on the floor, and look nervously at my companion and whisper, "What did they just say?"

The other day we went over to the Bishop's for dinner. The main meal? Pizza Hut pizza. Man, that was delicious! The Bishop knows missionaries too well. It's been like, two months since I've had pizza, and it was so nice to eat. You don't realize how much you'll miss it until you don't have it. And because they know us even better, the Bishop also made mashed potatoes. They actually love mashed potatoes, too. They told us the story of how they discovered them (because no one eats them here in Taiwan): one time they were in America, and they went to the Salt Lake City Temple, and they ate at the cafeteria, and they had mashed potatoes. They were like, Wow! These are delicious! So they now make them sometimes, and they made some for us. It was quite good.

It's cooling down now. It rains a lot. That's about all on the weather, because it just rains every day now. And because I don't have a bike (the gear changer broke the other day, and I get my bike back from repairs on Wednesday), we're walking and taking buses everywhere. Which is pretty fun, I guess. Much cheaper than it is in Utah.

The scripture I want to share today is Ether 12:6. A wonderful scripture, especially for a missionary.

 And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

This scripture is very important for an investigator (and everyone else) to understand. Because, a lot of people here, before we even get anything out, just after walking up to them will say, "No, thank you." and continue on their way.  But the things that we know is that, yes, this gospel is true, it will help your life, and though you can't see God or anything right now, if you'd just give us an opportunity to share! Then you could begin to develop your faith, and you could begin to receive a witness. I guess the hardest thing for me to come to terms with as a missionary is that, we know that if people will just try doing the three things, Church, Pray, Read, they can know for themselves that it's true! The only problem is getting people to start.

In the MTC, one of my teachers told us, "You must have the faith that if they do these three things, they will know for sure that it's true. If they have done these and they don't know, something is missing or they've done one of them wrong." That's the faith they, and we all must have, because it's true.

Well, I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mission Letter 11/10/2014

Hello, everybody!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful week! Out here, they just kinda fly by. Sometimes they feel a little slow, but then you suddenly hit another Preparation Day and you think, where'd that week go?

This past week has been very interesting. In about the middle of the week, on Thursday, everything went wrong. It started at 12 noon. My trainer was coming down a curving hill, too fast (I was in front of him), and he tried to turn and brake, but he started skidding, and he went straight instead of right, up a curb, into a wall, with his bike, fell over, got his foot caught in something, and ended up with the bike on top of him. I'm not sure how it happened entirely, and I'm not sure how he managed to come away with nothing more than a small scrape on his write wrist. But he popped his front tire and broke his gear shifter, so now we're back to walking until the part (which he had to order) arrives.

Then we had our Weekly Planning session. We had two investigators. One, we called to find out her address. We discovered she actually lives about two hours outside of our area, and has been traveling that far every time we've tried to meet with her or invite her to church. So, we passed her on as a referral to the missionaries in her area. Our other investigator is gone for two weeks to a month for work, so we've lost all of our investigators for now. But we've got more coming up this week, that we have appointments with, so that should be good.

Stinky tofu. Had that for the first time this week. It was basically regular tofu, but softer, with a slightly moldy smell, but it was in some soup dish, and it really wasn't as awful smelling as I've been told, nor did it actually taste very good. It was just pretty "hai hao," a very versatile word in the Chinese language, because you can apply it in almost every situation; it basically means, "kinda, not really, ok-ish, nothing special."

But then we had Taiwan's famous shaved ice afterwards. It is literally impossible to describe, but may have been one of the best things I've ever eaten. It was simply delicious, with strawberry stuff, a brown sugar syrup poured all over it, and different things in the bottom (from sweet potato to like, gummy candy and pineapple). It was just good. Anyway.

I've been doing a lot of reading from the Book of Mormon recently (trying to a teeny tiny bit in Chinese too). But I'm around the beginning of Helaman. It's incredible to see how quickly the people of Nephi digressed. One day, everything was going just fine. The church was established, they had most of their possessions back, then the next page there are murders, dissensions, armies falling upon them, death destruction, etc.

I guess the main message is just that we have to watch the little things. Those are the most important. As we let ourseles slip in little ways, bigger things come. And then we're down the slippery slope. So, I'm literally out of time, hope you have good week! Watch the little things!

By the way, Matt Schumacher looks smart in his marine outfit.

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mission Letter 11/3/2014

Hello, everybody!

It has been a most excellent week. A very short week, and an extremely interesting one. Less happened to write about, because it was an extremely short week.

Last Wednesday, my last "Preparation Day" was also our mission Temple Day. So I got to go to the Taiwan Taipei Temple and do both Initiatories and Endowments. Initiatories were done both in English and Chinese, so I got to experience both. The Chinese was extremely fast and I could barely pick out words, but that's okay. Then the Endowment Session was all in English, so no headsets or anything; just one of the rooms did English. It was pretty cool; but the room is WAY smaller than any temple I've been in before.

That night, we then taught an English Class. Here in Taiwan, all the missionaries teach a free English class at the chapels, and everyone is welcome; they have Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced classes. In the area I'm in right now, the English program isn't doing too great. But we're working on that; every week, we spend two hours standing on the street handing out fliers. And now that it's in a nicer place, maybe more people will come.

The new chapel! The ward met in it for the first time this Sunday. It was magical! Because 1) how can a church 2) that is brand new = not be magical? The place was PACKED too. I didn't realize the ward was so big; somewhat later told me that a lot of people came from surrounding areas/wards because it was a new church, but no matter! It was still an awesome sight, every row taken, and just about full. Next week we'll see if it's full again, but if not, pretty soon us missionaries will fill it up. Especially now that we have a real baptismal font. No more baptisms in kiddy pools that might flood the church. It's so exciting.

Not much else happened in the past 4 days. We ride our bikes a lot, talking to people who are out walking. It's always sad when at the end of a contact, you realize that they're a tourist from a different part of Taiwan, and you can't ever meet with them again. Then you try and give the referral to the missionaries in their area, and start contacting again. It's less sad because you're still doing missionary work, but it just means you'll have to walk a little longer to find another investigator.

Last night we went to a New Member/Investigator fireside at the Mission Headquarters. They have this fireside every month, and it consists of talks, a short video clip, a musical number, and a missionary choir song. At last nights meeting, the DanShui "Mini Zone" (it's really a district, but it's one of the biggest districts around here, 10 missionaries, so some call it the DanShui Zone) sang for the musical number, 8 singers doing 4 part harmonies, and then me on the organ. It was a ton of fun, and it all sounded really good, too, because there's a lot of musical talent both in my District and in the Mission as a whole. So that was awesome.

And then they showed a video. It might be one you're familiar with, it came out a few months ago. It's called "Because of Him." Not only does it have excellent music, but it also goes on to kind of describe a little of what we can do because of Christ. It describes Christ; his humble beginnings, his short ministry, and then what we can have because of Him. Because of Him, we all will live again. We can all start again. And again. And again.

It is a missionaries purpose/job to "cry repentance until all people." It's a little scary, teaching people, and being like, "This is the repentance process, you must do this because you're not perfect." I've learnt a lot about the repentance process, because, as part of the third lesson, we teach it a lot.

But the part about repentance that is my favorite is best explained by this scripture: Mosiah 26:30, which says:
30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.

That's the promise we have from God. Repentance isn't a bad thing; we all need to do it everyday, because we're all not perfect. It's impossible to be perfect. Repentance isn't a sign that we're bad people or anything, it's something that should be standard, because everyone is imperfect. So don't feel bad repenting, because everyone needs to on a daily basis. Remember the Atonement isn't just for bad things we have done, it's purpose is also to help us become better.

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Picture

Riding home a couple nights ago.




Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Mission Letter 10/29/2014

Hello, everybody!

I hope everyone's week-and-a-half has been going well! I know mine has, even though it's been a little long. 10 day weeks are long; you have no idea how much of an effect Preparation Day has on a full-time missionary, having a little bit of time to just relax, go do fun stuff, grocery shopping, cleaning the apartment, etc. But it's all completely worth it because today is temple day; in about 4 hours, I'll be going to the Taiwan Taipei Temple. I'm so excited because I haven't been inside it yet. I'm looking forward to it.

So, right now I'm in a tripanionship. You might remember my companion and I are over the Bali area, and because it's just being opened right now, they didn't have an apartment for us. So we were staying with the DanShui Elders, in their tiny apartment, a 45 minute bike ride away from where we normally work in Bali (but the bike ride is a beautiful ride along a river to the coast of Taiwan, so it's no problem there).

But last Friday was transfers, and one of the DanShui Elders just finished training, and so he got transferred away. Then, because the new missionaries who should have arrived this last transfer also have visa problems, they're out somewhere in America, and we're missing some missionaries. So throughout the Taipei Zones, a lot of people got put into tripanionships to fill the holes and keep areas open until the new missionaries arrive. These tripanionships included me.

But it's really weird; he's just tagging a long with us. The Mission Office told us he alone is still over DanShui, and we, the other two, are still over Bali. So they want him to as much as possible get member peike's (that's a member who accompanies you to things, would be the best English translation), and do splits all the time. That's hard, because no one has time here in Taiwan, people work so much. So, we're making it work; and really praying for the new missionaries to get their visas and be able to come here.

So, a few missionaries from the Taipei Zone were invited to participate in the Missionary Choir! This included me and a few others from this District. So every Preparation Day, we go down to downtown Taipei for Choir Practice. Then, throughout the end of November and all of December, we'll perform every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at a different ward, singing Christmas music in Chinese. I'll probably get to play a song on the piano, and maybe even conduct one! So much fun. And possibly play the organ in an Instrumental song, if we can get that figured out.

For the past 18 years, the ward that I'm serving has met in a rented hall in a building that wasn't owned by the church.  It was in a tiny little place, had a small kitchen, had pillars where they set up chairs for Sacrament meeting, and was just an overall tiny place. The baptismal font was what looked like a kiddy pool, with taller walls; they filled it up with a hose, and had to pump the water out of it after every baptism. It was this tiny, tarp and PVC contraption, that on several occasions had had a construction "failure" and flooded the church (because you took it apart after every baptism and then rebuilt it the next time).

But now, they finally have their own chapel. It's a beautiful church. They build churches very differently in Taiwan; because land is always rather small around here, they build on a small plot but very tall. For example, this church has a total of 7 floors, and has an elevator for all that. Underground in the basement is a basketball court, which has a tall ceiling which takes up most of the first floor. Floor 2 is the chapel, which also has a tall ceiling, thus taking up most of the 3rd floor. Floor 4 has the Relief Society and Primary room, Bishop and Clerk offices, and Floor 6 is the hot water, roof access, etc. It's one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen; I'll take a picture of the outside for next week's email.

We start meeting in it this Sunday. But last week after church, there was a church tour for the ward leaders (and missionaries). But it felt like half the ward showed up anyway (it's a pretty small ward). And they were so happy! It was kinda fun just watching them explore every nook and cranny of their very own, new church. Looking in all the closets, doors, kitchen, checking out the oven, bathrooms, classrooms, etc. They were just so happy! But so am I. It's a big church that would accomodate 3 wards, some day when we can convert enough people. Right now there's only one small ward here, but this church is just awesome.

 

A small thought about miracles. When I first got into the mission, I thought it was really weird, both in California and here in Taiwan, because all the missionaries would say stuff like, "Oh, then we ran into this person! It was such a miracle," or they'd have an idea and be like, "Ahh! Thank goodness for the Holy Ghost." And I felt like, "We just contacted him on the street." Or, "Well, I could have thought of that." But now when I think about it, their is a saying that I've heard somewhere, "You can either live life like everything is a miracle, or you can live life as though nothing is." And as you are surrounded by this, and things keep happening, you start saying, yes, these are miracles, yes, the Holy Ghost is giving me these thoughts.

We watched one video a few days ago during companionship study. It was Elder David A. Bednar's video, "Patterns of Light." He talks a lot about feeling and recognizing the Holy Ghost. He gives an example, of a man who one day thinks he doesn't have enough time to say his prayers, but then he might here in his mind his mother when he was a little boy saying, "Now don't forget to say your prayers." Elder Bednar says, this is of the Holy Ghost. Why have a miraculous sign or a different voice, when triggering this memory can have the same effect? The Holy Ghost will work through any method to get us to do right. I would highly recommend watching those videos; there are three of them, about 4 minutes long, and if you just search "Patterns of Light" on LDS.org, you'll find them.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful week! I know I will!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mission Letter 10/20/2014

Hello, everybody!

So, another week having 4 people in what really is a 2 person apartment! Hooray! Even though it's cramped, and I sleep on a couch that's shorter than I am tall, and my companion sleeps on the floor on a not-too-good pad, and we live out of suitcases, and have no shelves, and there's ONE stove in the whole place, we're having a blast, because it's just fun living in a 4 person apartment. We tell jokes almost every night before bed. It's been a blast.

But we're still looking forward to having an apartment in the city where I'll actually be serving because right now we travel 45 minutes on public transportation to get there, and 45 minutes to get home. So some days, like Sundays, we only have 1 hour in our area before we have to leave again. I also still don't have a bike, so we do lots and lots of walking.

Chinese is a difficult language.We went to church yesterday, and I understood about 2.243569% of what was happening. Yup. It's very hard to concentrate on what's happening when you don't know what's happening. It's weird; I've grown terribly accustomed to not knowing what people are saying or what's happening around me. Because I almost never know what's happening. Oh well, it will come.

It's still hard, because we technically have 4 investigators; 1 who came to General Conference but then didn't come to church this past week, one who since the first time we ran into her hasn't answered her phone or her door, despite our repeated attempts, one who canceled our first meeting, and another who we recently contacted but haven't met yet. So, interesting things are happening. "Opening" an area has its challenges, especially without bike or apartment (sadness!), but it's also a lot of fun. We're discovering a lot of things around the area; where some good places to eat are, where some markets are, where the good shaved ice is, and where we can't go. But it's just a beautiful area, next to a very wide "river" which is more like an inlet, because the tide comes in and out, and it's so close to the ocean, and we have a port, and we occasionally see big cargo vessels at the mouth of "the river."

Another little fun thing; we were supposed to have another transfer of missionaries come this week; they were the group just younger than me in the MTC, and we were in the MTC at the same time, and I actually saw a couple of them during the Priesthood Session of General Conference singing in the MTC Choir, but their visas are having problems, too. So our entire transfer is probably being delayed until they arrive, which could be sometime in November.

So, when I was doing my Personal Study the other day, I came across the scripture in the Book of Mormon which I've never quite noticed before; in Alma 37:

 44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
 45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.

I had never viewed our journey through life and compared it to Lehi's family following the compass. But when you think about it, they had to have such great faith that this was a creation of God, leading them to a land of promise, that they had no idea existed or had any idea where it was; across a great ocean, with nothing familiar in sight. And they trusted the compass.

Likewise, we have the Words of Christ, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we put our faith in that it will, as Alma says, "carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise." And that's just a cool little comparison, maybe parable, I guess you would call it in English, and it also is something that emphasizes the importance of faith. Without faith, we really have nothing. So I just thought I'd share that scripture briefly.

By the way, next week and the week after are our mission temple days, so my Preparation Day may be changed to a Wednesday because of Temple attendance. So, if you don't get an email on the regular day, rest assured that I'm probably not dead.

Have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, October 12, 2014

10/13/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

Finally here in Taiwan, finished my 3 Day Orientation at the Mission Home, and I've been out in the field for almost a week. I've been assigned to the Dan Shui District (in English, it's translated to Tamsui, don't know how that happened), and my area is the Bali area. Me and my trainer are actually "opening" the area. It used to be part of the Dan Shui Elders area, but it's across a river, a pretty big area, and they don't actually make it over there very often. So they're opening it, and we've been assigned specifically to that area. So there's no apartment yet, and when we arrived, there were no investigators, either. But we've got one now, who we met on the street, and then taught a lesson to the next day, and then he came to General Conference, both the Sunday Sessions! Because here in Taiwan, they watch all the sessions together, with about a 10 minute break in between, and an hour at 12 noon for lunch.

So, because we had no investigators, we did a toooooonnnnnn of contacting, and still do. It's the only thing we can do, until we start getting some people we can teach lessons to. First, it takes about 45 minutes to get to our area by train and then by bus, even though we can see it across the river from our apartment. But, we have to take the train south, get on a bus that goes across the bridge and goes back north, and it just takes a while.

One challenge we face here is that, we'll try to talk to someone, and they'll say something like, "Oh, I'm baibai," and continue on, like, "thank you." And we'll be like yes, you're baibai, that's WHY we want to talk to you! Or, we'll find a Christian, and they'll be like, Oh, you're so good! God bless you, do a good job. I'm already Christian. Have a nice day! Everyone here seems to think that any/all religion is good, and it doesn't matter which one you're a part of, it's good. Which is true to an extent, I guess, but not completely true. So finding people can be a little bit of a challenge, sometime.

But a few funny stories now. Traffic here. Sometimes I watch it and then just start laughing, because there's absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. It's a food chain; buses first, followed by trucks, then cars, motorcycles, mopeds (of which there are billions), bicycles, and then pedestrians. Often, on just an extremely busy two lane road, a person will just stop, and then begins the exciting process of getting all the traffic of a two lane road, past each other in one lane. By the food chain, it's buses first. Because they'll just pull over to the opposing traffic side and go, and if you're in the way, you'd better stop, or he'll honk at you, because he ain't stopping. Most of the time, when letting people on and off, the bus doesn't even come to a complete stop; it's similar to a "California Roll" at a stop sign.Traffic lights here last about two minutes, so you can take a nap and recharge before the green light. I can't wait to have a bike. The mission office gives every missionary a green reflective belt type thing; it's not a vest, but you wear it like one. So we're very reflective at night. "Wear it with pride!" Sister Day said. It lovingly has, written by her, our name, and a drawn heart, to remind us that Sister Day is "always thinking about us," as the mission Mom.

One of my first days here, I heard the song... of a ice cream truck. Or so I thought. In Taipei City, I heard the song, and I thought, "well that's weird! I didn't know they had that here. I could totally go for some ice cream." No. Was I mistaken or what. A few days later, I saw one of these magical ice cream trucks; painted orange, little lights on top, slowing driving down the street, a man manning the back of the truck, all the Taiwanese people running into the street.... throwing their garbage away. It's totally a garbage truck, and because a lot of places don't have bins here, you're just at home, and when you hear the truck coming, you run outside with your garbage to throw it away. Yes, never thought I'd see that.

Food. We eat out about every meal, except for breakfast, but even for that sometimes. Because it is literally cheaper to eat out than to go to the grocery store. It's quite cheap here; we eat a pretty good Lunch and Dinner for about 5 US dollars per day, total. The food is really good, and some of it is really weird. There are so many kinds of tea here, that aren't actually tea, which gets confusing, and you have to make sure there's not actually tea in it, but they taste really... interesting, and take a little getting used to.

Elevators here eat people. They don't have sensors like American elevators, no; and because in Taiwan, it's so busy, every machine tries to move people as quickly as possible, the elevator door doesn't stay open that long. The close door button actually works, and there's a bar in the door; so if the door HITS you, then it will open back up again, but I've almost been eaten a couple times. It's actually quite humorous when someone gets squished by a door.

We watched General Conference here on a little laptop screen in English while the ward watched it projected onto the wall in Chinese. In the ward I'm serving in, there are 6 missionaries assigned to it now (used to be 4, until my companion and I showed up), Dan Shui Elders, Dan Shui Sisters, and then Bali Elders. Out of the 6 of us here, 3 of us are currently in Training (training is a 12 Week process), 1 from the previous transfer before me, and 2 from my transfer. The ward here meets in a rented building (which they've rented for over like, 10 years), and it's a very interesting building. But, yay! In about 3 weeks, the chapel for the area will be complete, and we'll move into there. Everyone is so excited to finally have our own building. All the chapels here look so grand, too; almost like temples.

So, General Conference. It was so cool that they had the native language talks! But one of the most impactful statements from General Conference, in my opinion, was the story where the lady thought, "Somebody must pay for this wrong!" And then the thought entered her head, "Somebody already has." That's one of the most important things that we can remember, because Jesus Christ has suffered for every injustice, every pain that we've endured, for everyone. Our job is to try to be perfect, to forgive everyone.

Being perfect is a pretty high standard. But it is achievable, according to the scriptures; Moroni 10:32 says, "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God." So, through Christ, in this life, we can be made perfect. This is what every person should strive for, because eternity is a lot longer than you think. It's our only purpose on this earth, it matters for eternity! That makes everything else in this earth seem just a little less important, because absolutely nothing else in the short 80 years of life we have (approximately, according to current statistics, right?) will affect infinity.

I hope you all have a wonderful week! Don't forget everything from Conference just yet!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Sunday, October 5, 2014

10/6/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

So, I literally had about 20 for emailing time today, of which 9 of those have been spent reading letters sent to me in an extremely hurried fashion (because for the past two weeks I have had around an hour and a half). So, this could be an extremely short email.

But at least it's from Taiwan! Yay! It's so exciting actually being here, it's such a wonderful place. And especially after the torturous long journey beginning with waking up at 2:45 AM, having a 24 minute flight followed by a 6 hour layover followed by a 12 hour flight followed by a 2 hour layover followed by a 3 hour flight. Long day, that was. But I don't have jet lag too bad, just a little sleepy at night (okay, extremely sleepy) and I wake up about 2 hours before I'm supposed to. One thing that was really cool about all the flights, though, was that by the time we were in Tokyo, all 30 of us from the MTC were together again on the flight to Taiwan.

So yesterday was our first full day here in Taiwan, something happened between the International Date Line and the entire series of flights. But all 30 of us were taken by the Temple Sisters (who serve in this area) and we went to Daan Park and went contacting with our temporary companions (we haven't met our trainers yet) for about an hour and a half. And the first thing I noticed, is that people here in Taiwan, who don't have all those preconceived notions about Mormons that a lot of Americans have, are so nice! Everyone will at least acknowledge your presence and will usually talk to you for a little bit. Everyone is extremely cordial, even traffic light crossing guards will make jokes and talk to you. So that's one thing that just makes me love this place even more.

This morning, for exercise, we ran to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (I think that's how it's spelt in English). It's this enormous, magnificent park, with this giant building in it, built for I guess you could say, a war hero. It's beautiful! The entire place is so beautiful! And the culture here is just really cool. All of us missionaries are just kinda taken aback, and still getting used to the fact that we're here in Taiwan.

So I'll leave the mission home with my trainer to go to my area tomorrow afternoon. Not long after that, I'll have my bike (so excited!). Everything here is just so amazing. I'm so happy to be here, and my Chinese is coming back a little bit, too. Because there is no option other than speaking it. In Church yesterday, though, understand extremely little. In Sunday School, the teacher was talking at about 7000 miles per hour, so about the extent of my understanding, that lesson was something about marriage.

So far here, we've eaten Ham and PB&J Sandwiches, Spaghetti, and Pancakes with bacon. Very authentic, traditional Taiwanese food. We ate all that at the mission home, but I think tonight they're taking us out for Taiwanese food. I'm so excited. 

Anyway. My time is completely up. Keep pushing forward in faith! I hope everything is well at home, because it sure is a lot of fun here!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Thursday, October 2, 2014

VISA ANNOUNCEMENT!

Hello, everybody!
 
So, last night at 9:30 PM, I was informed that my Visa for Taiwan has been approved and arrived. Today is my last day here in California; tonight I will be staying at the Zone Leader's house, and tomorrow morning I will be enroute to Taiwan (From San Francisco to LA, to Tokyo, to Taipei).
 
Serving here in the Carlsbad California Mission has been such a pleasure and such an amazing experience, and I've just barely gotten adjusted to it! I really enjoyed it here, but I'm so excited to now head out to Taiwan. So, my future emails will be from the other side of the Pacific Ocean!
 
Until then, have a great rest of your week!
 
Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg
Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Monday, September 29, 2014

9/29/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

It feels like this week has flown by. I've now been in California for about two weeks, and the days are starting to go a little faster now. When I first arrived, I felt like those were the longest days of my life, because we were always doing something, and it felt like we were still out in the middle of the night after everybody had gone to bed! But it was only until 9 PM, and I'm getting more adjusted to it here.




I'm so spoiled here in California. My tripanionship has a full time car, we get fed by members almost every night, and I haven't eaten anything really weird yet (except I had olives the other day for the first time, they're much saltier than I thought). The temperature is a comfortable 78 now, during the day, so everything is just beautiful.

So, because I'm just a visa waiter, the mission president here placed me into a tripanionship (the same happened with the other 2 Taiwan missionaries that came here with me). My companions have recently (about 2 months ago) been assigned by the mission president to learn Farsi. There are a lot of Iranians here, and so learning the language opens up many more opportunities to teach the gospel around here. In fact, the ward that I'm currently serving in has it's meetings translated into Farsi. There's a couple members here who translate during the meeting, and Farsi people have little headsets they can listen to. Then, in Sunday School, there's a Farsi Group where the class (taught by people who only know English) is also translated into Farsi. So, I'm surrounded by Farsi.

But, there's also a lot of people here in California who are immigrants from China. The other day, my companions and I were walking in the street at night contacting, and we got a call. It was from the Sister Missionaries who also serve in this ward, and they'd run into a lady who spoke Chinese and no English, and so they phoned me to talk to her. Communication, particularly over a phone, was very difficult; I could barely understand what she was saying. But it was good enough that we set up an appointment for the next night, in that same park they were walking in. I tried to get her address and phone number so we could contact her if we couldn't find her, but she told me she didn't have a phone and didn't know her address, "Just meet me in the park tomorrow." I asked her name, and over the phone, it sounded like "Yi Wai."

So, that's what we did. The Sister missionaries went, and I went on Splits with a member of the ward, Bro. Floyd, who lived in China for 5 years after minoring in Chinese at BYU. So we had two Chinese communicators, which was excellent, because he understood everything about the casual stuff she was saying that I didn't. We asked what her name was, and she said, to spell it phonetically, "Tee Why." We weren't sure what that meant, so we said, "What character?" She tried to write on our hands, like Chinese people do, but Bro. Floyd told her to write it on his iPad instead. She wrote out, T. Y. Which we thought was pretty funny that it had taken us so long to get to the simple English. You just don't expect that, you know?

Either way, we started teaching. That night was pretty cool; I was able to get through the entire first lesson in Chinese. It was an incredibly cool experience. Especially having the opportunity to use my Chinese, I enjoyed it incredibly. We gave her a Book of Mormon again, because the first night, the sisters had tried to give her one, and she got really excited and tried to give it back, and they didn't understand why. 

The following night, we met with her again, this time with the actual Chinese missionaries from San Diego. We got to the root of her concern with the book. In Chinese, the book is called Mo'ermenjing. And the word for devil is Mogui. So she was very concerned that the book we'd given her, "Another Testament of Jesus Christ," sounded like "The Devil's Gate Scripture." Along with the fact that she wasn't a Christian in China, like half a year ago, and now she's was trying to find a church, and she was like, "I just found out about the Bible, and now there's another one?" But she is just the sweetest lady, and Is really awesome. I enjoyed having the opportunity to teach her that one lesson, because at the second one, we "transferred" her, you could say, to the Full-Time Chinese missionaries.

As for my visa, still not much word. We know that it's coming; my mission president said that, "We are making major strides in getting them [the 31 Taiwan visa waiting missionaries] here.  Things have been cleared with the consulate in San Francisco, and now we are waiting for the processing of the visas here at the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs." So, progress is being made!

During church yesterday, the lesson was about the Godhead. The fact that they are three separate people with a unified purpose. There's a quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, which states, "Three glorious persons comprise the Godhead... They are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Each one possesses the same divine nature, knows all things, and has all power. Each one has the same character, the same perfections, and the same attributes. Because of this perfect unity, they are spoken of as being one God."

Knowing this makes the Holy Ghost all the more special. As members of the church, we have all been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Our job now is to heed its promptings, because if we ignore them, often the Holy Ghost will move away until we seek it again. But as we listen more, we recognize more and more the promptings it gives us, and we then feel like we have it more often, as we heed its voice. It's an amazing gift, knowing that one of the Godhead, that has the same nature, knows all things, and has all power has been promised as our constant companion.

While I was in the MTC, someone once said that, "The Holy Ghost never withdraws itself from us. We withdraw ourselves from the Holy Ghost." Imagine the Holy Ghost as a point with a radius. These are the boundaries, the standards, etc., things we must do to have his companionship. Now imagine ourselves as a point, somewhere within this boundary. But when we don't feel the Holy Ghost, it's not because the boundaries have changed, it's because we've moved ourselves outside of them. What we then must do is move ourselves back inside that boundary.

I'm really enjoying my mission, temporarily here in California, and soon to be in Taiwan. I truly am excited to be serving here, and it's already been a great experience, even in this short time. But hey, in about 10 days, I'll be at the 3 month mark, meaning my mission will be 1/8 complete.

Have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Temporarily California Carlsbad Mission
Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mission Letter 9/22/2014

Hello from Sunny Southern California, everybody!

So, tomorrow marks my first week in a strange land, in a completely different environment. There have been things I expected, and a lot more things about missionary life that I haven't expected.

For starters, we run every morning. Every. Except Sunday, of course. That all was expected. But California is extraordinarily hilly, I don't know who thought that would be a funny joke. That part wasn't expected.

Next, we talk to a lot of people, people in their driveways, people in their doors, people walking down the street, people walking down the highway. That was expected. Them not liking Mormons (like, a lot) or pretending you don't exist or ignoring you or slamming doors in your face or just simply walking away from you suddenly? That part wasn't expected.

Thirdly, people say missions are hard. Yes, I expected that. But after two months in the MTC, surrounded constantly by spiritual people, nice people, and always happy people, people who teach you, attending devotionals, singing hymns and praying together, always being surrounded by missionaries, to coming here, it's a major culture shock. I didn't realize that it was as hard as it is, and the more I'm out here, the more appreciative I become of the MTC and what an uplifting place it really is. Even though I was really happy to leave, I'm so glad I had the time there. So the "hard" part that everyone talks about missions? That part wasn't expected.

Finally, missionaries are always exhausted. I knew I would be tired, because walking around all day, doing missionary stuff, because we're out until 9 PM, sometimes 9:30, I expected all of this. But coming home, and three minutes after lying down on my bed, being asleep (that was on my second day)? When 6:30 AM comes, you wish the clock would maybe go back another hour so you could catch up on some sleep? That part wasn't expected.

But it's cool out here. I get to see the ocean, feel the breeze, and depending on where we're at in our area, I get to smell the ocean, and it's really nice. However, last week, this place (I'm in Del Mar, if you're interested on where I'm at) had one of the hottest weeks in a while, and it was stifling, and humid, but now it's cooled off, and it's become very comfortable. The temperature is always around about 78-84 Fahrenheit in the daytime now.

I actually have two companions; the three of us from the MTC that came to this mission, I think all of us just got placed in tripanionships, because they have no idea when we'll leave. So we're just going to be sitting cozy until I finally depart for Taiwan.

I actually got really lucky; President Kendrick, the mission president here, told us when they picked us up from the airport, about the different areas. One is further inland, really hot, and I'm not sure if they have a car. Elder Casper got assigned to that area. But I'm right on Oceanside, in one of the more temperate parts of the mission, we have a full time car, so basically, in this mission, I think I live in the lap of luxury.

But it's still exhausting.

Ahh, the airport! Yes. When we arrived, I didn't know the Mission President's name. I didn't know what he looked like, or how we were going to find him. And our flight landed a little early, so we grabbed our luggage, and then stood in the terminal like a group of deer in the headlights. Waiting, trying to decide, do we want to call someone? Should we go outside? Should we walk up an down the terminal? So after about 5 minutes, we spotted the couple wearing name tags, and that was exciting because we knew who they were. Then they took us back down to the Mission Office, for about a 15 minute orientation and interviews, then they sent us on our way.

Eating at members houses: yes, I very much like it. We've eaten with a member every night except one, so far. The food thus far has been very good, even things I didn't like to eat before (like certain cheeses that everyone seems to put on their salads). I believe there is a scripture in 1 Nephi, where Nephi says they ate raw meat, and it was made to "taste sweet unto them." And I'm hoping that's the same for missionaries; I haven't had a bad member meal yet.

A little bit about the MTC. It was an amazing experience. I was happy to leave, but I'm also really happy I got the chance to be there, and being there for two months wasn't a bad thing, either. It was really amazing. The spiritual strength gained from just being together with other missionaries, learning together, teaching and always studying the gospel, it was just really cool to observe the effects it had, the things we learned, the knowledge we already had. I know that there's a lot of strength that comes from reading the scriptures; because they contain the Words of Life. As long as we observe to do that which is written in them, our lives will be happier, more blessed, and we'll be better able to bless the lives of others.

One thing that I believe everyone should strive to develop is Christlike Attributes. There's a section in Preach My Gospel by that name, and I love that section, because if we could develop all those attributes just a little bit, we would be such amazing people. I think everyone should read it, and study the scriptures listed in it, because it's one part of living the gospel. Becoming like Christ, and Enduring to the End.

Anyway, it's been a good week. My visa is supposed to come in about 2 weeks, maybe sooner, that would be nice. It's a shame I don't get to talk Chinese to almost anyone here, even though there's a goodly amount of them around. In fact, our neighbor is from China, so I had about a 1.5 hour conversation with her last week, not entirely in Chinese, but about half. It was good to practice a little bit, and she's agreed to every-so-often continue to help me practice. (Language study has changed dramatically since leaving the MTC. It's a lot harder.) But I'm excited for here, and to soon go to Taiwan.

Hope you all have a wonderful week!

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Monday, September 15, 2014

9/15/2014 Mission Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

Great week it's been, yes indeed! You have no idea the relief that comes from actually having some certainty about your future. We were so excited (we being my district) last Thursday when our Temporary Assignments came. My companions and I were sitting outside on the concrete bench doing companionship study when a sister came running out of the building yelling, "Our calls came! Our calls came!" They knew that because the other zone had their calls, so ours were in the mailbox. And because my companion is the District Leader, he has to go get the mail. So we basically scooped everything up in our arms and started sprinting to the post office, I kept dropping stuff, so that didn't work out too well.

We got all our letters, went outside as a district, and then "opened" them together (they weren't in an envelope, they were just a couple pages stapled together). We all read aloud where we were going. One other Elder from my district is going with me, Elder Casper, and another Elder from the other district who came in at the same time as us, Elder Pincock. We leave tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM, how exciting. Our district has been picked apart one missionary at a time, as if by vultures. We've gone various places; of the 31 missionaries originally going to Taibei who didn't get their visas, we're being divided between the following missions: Vancouver Washington, Omaha Nebraska, Tacoma Washington, South Salt Lake, Ogden, St. George, and Carlsbad California.

Packing has been pretty exciting. Mainly easy, because I packed two weeks ago, thinking I was going to leave for Taiwan. But I'm really stoked to get some extra flights in and visit California on the way. The weather is going to be just beautiful! And the ocean will be, too.

Last night we had a devotional by President Tad R. Callister, the General Sunday School President. He is incredibly knowledgeable; he presented the entire plan of salvation, and explained every concept so eloquently and logically; he explained why every part was necessary, things that I hadn't quite picked up on before, and then he used Scriptures from the Bible to prove every part of it. I don't think he used ANY from the Book of Mormon.

For example, we knew that in the pre-existence, we knew God had a perfect body and a perfect Spirit. But we didn't have a body, or a perfect Spirit; we were still developing (as is the nature of children). So we came to Earth in order to get a body and to develop our Spirit. Why does God have to let us go alone? Because, he used this analogy, think of a mother raising a child, teaching it how to walk, holding its' hand as it learns. But at some point, the mother has to let go, even though she knows the child will fall, but that's how it learns better, how it progresses, from experience. We are the same way; that's why the veil is necessary. 

So, I might make a cool little chart from that Devotional. With scriptures and everything. Maybe I'll eventually send it home, too.

The MTC has been a wonderful experience. Today is Day 68. I've learnt so much here, gospel, and especially language. I'm so pumped for my mission; can't wait to get out into the field, and especially use my Chinese to teach other people the gospel. And California is where I'm supposed to be first, even though it might literally only be for two weeks (because my transfer and the next transfer to Taiwan is so large, almost 1/4 of the mission will be brand new missionaries). 

I hope you all have a wonderful week! Remember to always have faith that the Lord will never let you have more trials than you can handle.

Love,
Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Thursday, September 11, 2014

MY TEMPORARY MISSION CALL

Dear Family and Friends,

Today my temporary reassignment came. I WILL BE TEMPORARILY SERVING IN THE CALIFORNIA CARLSBAD MISSION UNTIL MY VISA ARRIVES.

I'M SO EXCITED! I don't think caps lock can explain how excited I really am. I will be departing from Salt Lake City on Tuesday, September 16. It's so amazing! More on Monday, in the big email, maybe.

Love,

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net

Monday, September 8, 2014

9/8/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

Good to see you all again! It has been a really long week, but also a really good one.

So, no, I'm not currently writing you from Taiwan. Our Visas didn't come because Taiwan recently changed their Visa Application process, or form, or both, or one of the two, and we are the first group of missionaries that this has happened to, so we are the pioneers of this situation. So, because the Church Travel Office had to completely restart the application process, all 31 of us missionaries are being temporarily reassigned Stateside. Woot! Actually, some of us took it pretty hard, but after a day or two, we were just fine, completely recovered, and now really excited.

We are once again preparing to leave. Because the fact we weren't leaving was unexpected for the Travel Office, they didn't quite have finished their back-up plan for us. But we do know that we'll be leaving in (probably) the next week or two. We're all excited for our second mission calls; it's like the whole process happening over again. They'll probably leave a letter in our box, our district will gather together, we've already written our personal guesses on the chalkboard, and then we'll open them together and be really happy! Two missions for the price of one! Who knew, right?

But by the time all the visas clear, there should be about 50 missionaries going to the Taiwan Taipei Mission at around the same time, and Taipei only has about 200 missionaries. So we're going to flood them out; a lot of this is replacement of departing missionaries, I think, so the mission president wants us in Taiwan as soon as possible. We may not even be in the states for an entire transfer, just for about 4 weeks until our Visas come. Then we'll go to Taiwan, and 1/4 of the missionaries will be newly arrived. They're going to need a lot of trainers!

We had our 6th teacher this week. Her name is Sister Turley, or as she calls herself, "Sorella" Turley. Yes, that's certainly not Chinese. And that's because the Chinese department was quite low on teachers this week, and she was asked to help cover. She's actually from the Italian department, and she also has her own little class. And she doesn't know a word of Chinese. Which was really weird for us the first few days, because we spend 3 hours every day with her, and she can't help us with our Chinese, etc. But she still makes us speak Chinese; one person says what they're asking, and then the companion has to translate into English. It's an interesting system, one that's helped us because we really have to pay attention to what other people say now.

Even though it was weird with her not speaking to us in Chinese, and not being able to teach us Chinese, it was awesome because we were able to focus on the other aspect of missionary work. We talked a lot about things like planning, preparing how to teach investigators, applying principles from Preach My Gospel, and other things because, since she can't teach us what she doesn't know (Chinese), she teaches us what she does know, and that's a ton. She's a very smart person, and was an incredible missionary, from her stories.

Every Sunday night here at the MTC is Movie Night. In different buildings and rooms, they have different things showing, from Church Training Films to MTC Devotionals to actual Church produced movies like Legacy, The Testaments and Joseph Smith. For my entire time here at the MTC, my companion and I went to devotional replays or Church Training Films, until last night. We actually went and saw a movie; the first one I've seen in SO LONG. And we saw Legacy. In Mandarin. It was great! You feel really happy when you watch a movie in a language you're learning and you can understand words and phrases or, if you're really lucky, full sentences. And it's already a great movie. So, one of the most fun movie nights.

I attended the Departure Devotional this evening with my companion, because he's leaving for Canada this Wednesday, and my future is uncertain. So we went for him and just in case I get reassigned this week, because after reassignments happen, you can leave possibly within 3 days. So, short notice. During the departure devotional, the wife of one of the MTC Presidency Members said, "Really soon, you're going to become somebody's missionary." Because every convert has that missionary that they feel was their missionary, the one that had the greatest impact on them, whether it be the one that found them or the one that baptized them. "There's a great responsibility with being someone's missionary. How can we expect [those we help convert] to be faithful if we're not faithful ourselves?" For that reason we have to always live worthy of their trust after our missions.

And lastly, always remember this quote from President Thomas S. Monson, "Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other." Peter, when he climbed out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water had faith, until he saw the waves, and he started to doubt. No matter how much faith he had, the moment he doubted, he began to sink, because "one will dispel the other."

Have a wonderful week!

Love,

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission
Sequoia.Ploeg@myLDSmail.net