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! 

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission