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