Monday, August 25, 2014

8/25/14 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

So, this week I got my itinerary! One of the most exciting moments of my MTC experience: the moment they tell you you actually will someday leave this place. After seeing everyone come, and go, and then more come, and still go before you, you start wishing that someday it would be you.

So last Friday, in our mailbox, was our itinerary. We got it after lunch, and everyone was so excited (except for the two people in our district who didn't get an itinerary because they're going to Canada, an entire week after us). Our flight is currently scheduled to depart on September 5th, and it's a direct flight to Tokyo, Japan, where we will board a connecting flight (with only an hour and forty minute layover!) to Taipei, Taiwan. It was so exciting for us, reading all the checklists and "get ready" information.

About an hour later, the supervisor over the Chinese language teaching thingy came in and said that, as of right then, we were being delayed one week because not everyone's visas had come in. Imagine the depression! We were all so pumped, only to be told no. But someone after lunch went to the Travel Office, who said that there was no such problem and we would depart as scheduled. Two hours later, the guy who told us we were delayed said that our visas had come and we were no longer delayed. But then the Travel Office said, there might be a problem, don't listen to that guy, he doesn't know what he's talking about. So right now we're not sure what to think, but we're all still planning on departing as scheduled.

Also got my tags. They came the following day, on Saturday.
They're beautiful! Direct from Church Headquarters. They are in a sealed bag, which most people in my district are going to leave alone until we land in Taiwan, at which point we will ceremoniously open them and put them on when we finally arrive in our mission. One reason that we don't open them now is because it's cooler to open them when we arrive in Taiwan, and we're not allowed to wear them around the MTC anyway.

The teacher who gave our tags to us in our district was a substitute that day. He's from Singapore, and so he told us a personal story before he handed them to us. When he was in Singapore, at age 18 he was in the army (is it mandatory service down there? I don't know). He said the first week, there was a major ceremony where they all got up early and all the new recruits were marched to the square or some similar place like that. Then, they were each individually, one at a time, given their gun, which was really special to them because 1) in Singapore, he said, not many people have guns, and 2) because it was going to be with them constantly for the next two years.

He then told us, "I can't tell you these [name tags] are the real deal, because all tags are, but..." And then he called each one of us, and we came up one at a time to the middle of the room, and he (using two hands) gave each one of us individually our tags. It wasn't like he just set them on our desk as he distributed them, but it was really cool having him be the one to give us our tags, because of the story and how much more meaningful it all became.
As for the language, I understand 90% of this video: And you have no idea how happy that makes me. It's like, hey! I'm actually progressing! And when you watch it the following week, and understand so much more of it, it is really quite the confidence booster, and you amaze yourself. There are three "I'm a Mormon" videos in Mandarin, and we watch them pretty frequently. They're just a lot of fun to listen to. The gift of tongues which missionaries pray for so frequently is in a very literal sense, real. 

At the MTC, we have this thing called TRC's (Teaching Resource Center). We do TRC's once a week, where we teach, in our language, a gospel lesson to a member, who is acting as themself (not as an investigator). Last Monday evening, for the first time, we started our Skype TRC's. When we did live TRC's, it was usually returned missionaries who went to Taiwan or Americans who'd learned Chinese. But Skype TRC's are different; we go into a computer lab, and they connect us to actual Chinese people, usually a member in Taiwan. Except me and my companion, we taught a lady from China leaving in Cedar Hills. But most people taught Taiwanese people. And when you realize that they understand what you're saying and you understand what they're saying, and it's only been 7 weeks, you realize how much the Lord has helped you to learn.

At our Tuesday night devotional, we had Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, the Young Women's General President, come speak to us. She gave us 5 bullet points that we should focus on, and one of them was the importance of giving everything you have on your mission. One quote was, "The work should never really end if you're doing it right." She said that, "I've never heard anyone say, 'Boy, I wish I didn't work so hard on my mission.'" She said that these memories will be eternal; don't let them be memories of regret.

She shared a quote, I don't remember from where, "The task in front of them [the pioneers] was nothing compared to the support behind them." With God on your side, nothing is impossible. Something our language teachers told us when we first arrived was, "God didn't call you to fail." And that is a very true statement, and reminds us that whatever we're called to do, we know that it isn't impossible.

I'm so excited to go to Taiwan. It's coming up really soon. The MTC has been a great experience, but it will be truly exciting when I board that aircraft.

Have a great week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Monday, August 18, 2014

8/18/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everyone.

Fun story to start off the week: Last Tuesday, two districts from our zone were leaving for the Taiwan Taichung Mission. There were lots of goodbyes between them, us younger districts, and the branch presidency on Sunday, and more goodbyes on Monday night. On Tuesday they all left at about 3:30 in the morning to catch a 7:30 am flight to Denver, then to LA, then to Taiwan. So they were all loaded up onto the MTC's bus and taken up to the Salt Lake City Airport, where they disembarked, checked their bags, passed security, and sat down to wait for their flight. Which was delayed. By three hours. In fact, it was delayed so much, that they could no longer make their connecting flight to Taiwan. So they gathered there belongings, waited at the airport for another hour so the MTC bus could pick them up again, and they boarded and were faced with yet another day added on to their 9 week MTC stay. You can imagine our surprise when they came back at dinner time! The MTC let them back into their dorm rooms, and they had "district nap time" as the choice activity of the day. I really just hope this doesn't happen to me.

I only have 2 weeks and 4 days left here in the MTC. It's starting to dawn on us (me and my district) that, yes, one day we actually will leave this place, as unlikely as it has seemed from the start. In about one week, we'll get our itineraries. We're getting so excited. I'll be placed into an awkward tripanionship (it's what we've called it) because my companion is going to Canada. So that'll be a fun experience.

CHINESE IS SUCH A WONDERFUL LANGUAGE. For the record, it makes sense. It's just a logical language. If only the tones weren't so important, and the characters weren't invented by the devil himself... But once you get some of the words, you can figure out what other words mean simply by the sounds--something you can't do in English. And there are absolutely no tones, no conjugations, it's pretty great. We're all picking up the language quite rapidly here, it's amazing. I'm just so excited to get to Taiwan and start using the language! Having never before learned a foreign language, it's quite an experience, and it is just really exciting. Sometimes during language study we watch the "I'm a Mormon" videos, in Chinese. It's really cool because of the stories, it's just about the only media we can watch, and it's also amazing how much of what they're saying, we understand.

Last night we had our Sunday Evening Devotional, by Jenny Oaks Baker. She's an amazing musician, having obtained a Master's Degree from the infamous Julliard. And her entire family is musical--all of her children performed with her last night. It was kinda a musical fireside. She'd tell a story, give an experience, say a few lines, which led into her next song, and then she'd tell another story, and so it would continue. Her 11 year old daughter was playing very complex songs on the piano, accompanying her, her 7 year old son (so cute!) was sitting there playing the classical guitar, and another daughter (older than 11, but I'm not sure how old) was playing the violin, doing harmonies and other things. It was a really fun devotional.

I just really can't wait to go to Taiwan. There's really not much more to it. Being in the MTC for 6 weeks of course has been a great experience, and I've still got two and a half more, but it will also be a glorious day when I actually leave this place.

On Sunday, half our district watched the talk in our classroom, "Lord, I Believe," by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Go watch it; it's only just under 15 minutes, and it's an awesome talk. One of the paragraphs in it says,

"A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, "Brother Holland, I can't say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is." I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for "only believing." I told him that Christ Himself said, "Be not afraid, only believe," a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field. I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase "We believe." And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest."

Even if sometimes we can only believe, that's all that is necessary, at first. Alma, when talking to the poor among the Zoramites said, "But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith,yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words" (Alma 32:27). So just remember, if you don't know if you have faith, just believe. 

One more point that Elder Holland points out in this talk is don't first exclaim your lack of faith; tell first of how much faith you have, then on what you need help with.

One final quote, "Never let your faith be difficult to detect." (~I can't remember)

Have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mission Letter 8/11/2014

Hello, everyone!

We've passed the middle marker! I've now got less time left in the MTC than I've been here. Of course, this may be very interesting to me, but all you people who went on languages that didn't spend 9 weeks in the MTC, you may not care at all. I have friends come in after me, and leave before me. So the halfway point in a 9 week experience is kinda important (all the English speakers who come in on a Wednesday and leave like, the next Saturday? Yeah, they don't care about counting out halfway). But it's been a great experience here in the MTC.

We departure about 4 weeks out, we should be getting our itinerary in about two weeks. We're all so excited in our district! Because now it's really happening! We have two Mandarin districts who came in before us left here in the MTC, but they'll all be gone by this Tuesday. That means that we'll be the oldest in our zone (by entry date), and thus the most experienced, and the example for the new missionaries coming in (which happens to be this Wednesday, we'll get some new Mandarin districts).

There's a saying here in the MTC that we here all the time: "Obedience brings blessings; exact obedience brings miracles." So we try our best to get all the things done as they should be, like being in our dorms when we're supposed to, and doing everything like we're supposed to. It's very structured, our entire day, here in the MTC, but it's really an awesome experience. It's a shame that English missionaries only get about 10 days here.

Speaking of sayings, one of the missionaries who is leaving tomorrow told us a few days ago at lunch something he'd heard once, "English speaking missionaries learn the gospel. Foreign missionaries learn the language and the gospel. Missionaries to Asia learn humility." I thought it was hilarious, and we'll see how true that is when I get to Taiwan. I told that to my teacher and he was like, "No, no! You'll learn all three." I'm just so excited to finally go to Taiwan.

I'm sure my letters will get much more exciting when I get to Taiwan, with many more stories, because in the MTC, absolutely nothing happens or changes. Sure, there's many devotionals and talks I could tell you about, but no stories (yet).

So, I was reading from the scriptures the other day for personal study, and one of the references took me to the story of Naaman. I don't know if you remember the story of Naaman, but it's in 2 Kings 5:1-14. After reading that, I had three lessons that could be applied from it.

1. Verse 11: If we're too busy being insulted about things, like Naaman was (because Elisha didn't come to the door himself and perform a miracle, instead he sent a servant to tell Naaman what to do), we will miss the bigger picture, and the blessings attached.

2. Verse 12: Sometimes we don't understand why we must do certain tasks we are asked to. We don't understand the rationale or the reasoning behind it. But that's okay. We do it anyway, because the Lord (or his prophet) has asked us to. Like Naaman, why choose the River Jordan? There are much better, cleaner looking rivers out there. But (after his heart was softened by his servant), he went and obeyed and was cleansed.

3. Verse 13: Sometimes the task seems to easy, and we don't want to do it. Remember the Israelites and the snakes, when the only thing they had to do was look at Moses' rod and be healed? It was so easy, many of them wouldn't look, and they died. The same is with us (and Naaman). Naaman's servant said (basically, not quoted), "If the prophet had asked you to do some big, grand, honorable task, wouldn't you do it? Why not then a simple task?" No matter the task, the request still comes from God (through his prophet). And so we obey.

I'm still waiting for a member of the Quorum of the Twelve to come give us a devotional. Apparently, in the weeks before our arrival, they'd had about 12 General Authorities (mostly from the Twelve) come and speak, but not a single one since we've been here. So we should be due for one coming up soon (I hope).

Have a great week! Be good missionaries! Just one final quote, now that I think about it, from an Elder David A. Bednar devotional: "When it's time for you to be released from your mission, come home from your mission but never leave the mission field."

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Monday, August 4, 2014

8/4/2014 Mission Letter

Hello, everybody!

Crazy to think that at this very time, my mission is already 1/24 over. And by the time I leave the MTC, it'll be 1/12 over. Well, doesn't time fly?

Today, the MTC is taking in 152 new Senior Couple missionaries. That's an all-time MTC record. Seems like we'll basically have a whole section of the auditorium where they'll be seated.

On Thursday, an Elder from another district auditioned to perform for one of the major devotionals (he's singing, I'm accompanying). The audition went really well, but Sister Nally (who is the MTC President's wife and judges the auditions) gave us a few pointers and told us to come back next week and try again, because this week's slots were already filled up. So, back to practice.

On Wednesday, I'll begin my fifth week here in the MTC. Because I'm learning Chinese, I knew I was going to be here for a very long time. But I think I over-prepared for it--I've basically moved in here, and I feel like I'm never leaving. But then I realize, that I'm already half finished with my time in the MTC. And then I realize that I need to start learning Chinese faster still.

Our whole district is always a little down about, "Oh, these people (who've been here longer) know Chinese so well, I could never learn that much before I left." But really, it's incredible how in the amount of time I've been here in the MTC, I've been able to learn an impressive amount of Chinese. For example, I can teach (at least) the first and third lessons from Preach My Gospel. Outside of gospel stuff, however, I can say, "I want this thing. Or this thing." So, with much pointing, I should be able to survive the first few weeks in Taiwan.

Last night was movie night, once again. My companion and I went and saw a President Holland MTC Devotional from Thanksgiving Day, 2014. He talked a lot about how important the mission was. One of the things he said was, "I can't live with people who say, 'After my mission, I'm going back to real life.' This IS real life, capital R, capital L. This is the closest to real life you can ever get." He talked about how little we realize how privileged we are to live in this time and dispensation.

He said, every other dispensation has ended in apostasy. And every prophet of that dispensation knew it would. He said, "It can't be very fun to know you're going to fail." But, to be part of this dispensation is a special gift. For all of human history before the Restoration, there has been one temple on the earth, rebuilt three times, but always in the same place. "How many people could just head on down to Jerusalem and catch an ordinance session?" (Not a direct quote, that one.) But to live in the dispensation that will not end in apostasy is an honor. And it is our privilege as missionaries to go out and work side by side with the Lord to bring to pass the Plan of Salvation.

He said, we know how badly we want our family to live together for eternity. But God also wants his family. Every single thing God does, is to bring his family back to Him. And we are essential to the Plan of Happiness, bringing as many people to the knowledge of the truth as we can.

He talked a lot about names, that names are important, and the Lord knows each of us by name. He called, "Adam, where are thout?" "Moses, my son, and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten." Samuel, an 8 year old child, the Lord called to three times (by name). The Lord knows us personally. In the sacred grove, he called Joseph by his name, too.

All in all, I'm having a great experience in the MTC. I'm learning so much both about the language and the gospel. I'm also learning a lot about cafeteria food: when you eat it for a month, you usually gain weight (because it's not the healthiest stuff on the planet). Just about everyone gains weight here; it's a little scary.

Have a great week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission