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!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Temporarily California Carlsbad Mission
Taiwan Taipei Mission

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!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Dear Family and Friends,


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.


Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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!


Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mission Letter 9/1/14

Hello, everyone!

So, last Friday, my whole district went to In-Field Orientation, because this coming Friday we're leaving the MTC. In Field Orientation is an all day class, starting at 8 AM and going until 5:30 PM, with breakout sessions. At about 4:30 PM, right after we'd finished watching their "play" production on missionary work (a really cheesy demonstration of how to work with members and the various ward parts), they told us, "Every missionary going to Taiwan, please report to the Travel Office right now." So we went down there, frightened and worried, half suspecting the news, and were told "You're Visas didn't come, so you're not leaving this Friday." Crushed! We all slowly meandered back to In-Field Orientation. As we returned to the class, 31 missionaries trickled into the room, all a little down.

It's sad news, and it took a while to handle, because we were all so excited to be leaving on the 5th, and we were planning on packing our bags, we were in In Field, and then this! So it was a little disappointing, but we're dealing with it. The harder part is that we don't know when our next opportunity to leave will be, because we'll miss the transfer, our President is leaving the country for a Mission President conference, and our Visas still have to come.

But some of us our still optimistically packing our bags, in the hope that before Friday, they'll tell us, "Your Visas came! You're leaving this Friday!" We also took our final district pictures, etc. We can dream, right? Actually, we're pretty hopeful, because they didn't cancel our tickets (found out today) and so if our visas come any time between now and Thursday evening, we're out of here.

We're onto our fifth teacher. That's because the first ones keep leaving or getting transferred, not because this is normal procedure. Our first teacher finally left because he just graduated and got a job teaching at a school. Our substitute teacher was also another class' teacher, so they tried to get him out of there as soon as possible. The other teacher we started with got a new district to teach, so she's no longer with our class but with new missionaries. That brings the count to 3 down. Our 4th teacher, who was with us from the very first day until now, was just moved to another district. The Chinese department here is seeming to run out of teachers, because they asked a Returned Missionary, who returned a very long time ago, to come back to the MTC for a little bit to help them keep up. So that's our 5th teacher. Our district seriously went through a little bit of teacher withdrawals, but we're good now. The new teacher is growing on us.

At In Field Orientation, one of the segments was on Working with Members. They taught us the crucial role that members play in the conversion process, and how important working with the members is. They told us how important it was to gain a relationship with the ward we were working with and how crucial gaining the members' trust was. They also told us how crucial it was for members to be involved in missionary work, inviting their friends and acquaintances to meet with the missionaries, as well as fellowship converts and investigators. One goal as a missionary is to have as many discussions as possible with a member present. So, to summarize, members are really important.

Sharing the gospel isn't just helping others have a happier life. In Preach My Gospel, it says that our purpose as missionaries is to "open the doors to the Celestial Kingdom." One of our teachers said, "I'm from a family of 9 children. How many of those do you want to see in the Celestial Kingdom? 6 or 7? That's a majority, after all. No! You want all of them there. So does Heavenly Father." And that's why this work is so important.

I watched Elder David A. Bednar's Christmas Devotional again, "The Character of Christ." It's just so good, there's so much in it, that you get something new every time. I have two things to share from it:

1) How to take notes on talks. He said, some of us are bad at taking notes. We try to write a history of the whole talk. They try to make a "large plates," the ones where Nephi wrote the whole history. But what's going to happen to those notes? Think about three questions, will you ever be able to capture everything, will you ever use those notes again, and one month from now, will you even know where they are? No! Now how stupid is that, to take notes that you won't use, and in a month you won't know where they are. What we need to do is make the "small plates," the precious, simple truths revealed to us by the Holy Ghost. Those are the only things we need, and they are most important to us.

2) There's a large difference between having a testimony and being converted to the Lord. Having a testimony is not enough. People with testimonies can fall away from the Church, but people who are converted never will. What is conversion? If testimony is knowing truth (through the Spirit), conversion is consistently being true to what you know.

That's a pretty long letter. Have a great week! Hopefully the next letter will be from Taiwan (if our visas come)!


Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission