Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mission Letter 1/26/2015

Dear everybody,

Hello! This week has simply flown by! It's amazing how fast time really flies. Transfers are all 6 weeks, and here in Taiwan, we're usually with a companion for 2 transfers before someone leaves. We're already getting close to the two week mark of my being in Yuli, which means... things just fly. It seems like just a few days ago that I was writing an email to everyone.

Last Monday was P-Day, and we saw on the map of the area that there was a waterfall around here, so we decided we'd go bike out to it. When we arrived at the park area that had been set up, we saw the riverbed where the water should have been flowing away, but it was completely dry. It was a beautiful place, but there was absolutely no one around (my companion commented, "Typical Taiwan, they build this beautiful park, and none of the Taiwanese people are here."). So we parked our bikes and began to climb up the riverbed to where the waterfall was (in a small "canyon" just around the corner). It was a pretty decent waterfall!

We're not entirely sure where the water went, because it just kinda lands in that pool and then vanishes. There's only one way out of the canyon, and the water doesn't flow that way--maybe it just gets absorbed into the ground. But it was pretty nonetheless.

Here on the East Coast, everything is just so beautiful! The mountains surrounding us, the forests, hills, roads, so pretty! The city isn't filled with highrises and doesn't have a person in every square inch (but still enough that we can be missionaries), and everything is just more laid back here on the East Coast. It's every missionary's dream in this mission to get sent to the East Coast at least once, and here I am! It's such a nice, more rural, place. I hope I'm here for a while.

Other than that, Yuli is an extremely small town, and not much happened. We had a lot of lessons, and some finding time, and church, which is still small in Yuli (yesterday there were about 40 people). Here on the East Coast of Taiwan, they're working very hard to get a Stake. It's still a District; the entire east coast is currently part of one District, the Hualien District, and all the "groups" there in are branches, not wards, even though they have one of the largest chapels in Taiwan, and some of the branches here are bigger than some of the wards in other places of Taiwan (not mine, but in other places). Still, I think the problem is there isn't enough Melchizedek Priesthood holders to qualify to have a Stake. But they're working really hard here to get a Stake; it's like the dream of every branch down here, is to have the Hualien Stake; it's what they talk about, "One day we'll have a Stake, and then our own Temple." We had a High Councilman come to our branch and speak, and he talked about how as we better ourselves (and he gave some examples), then we'll get a stake, a ward, and eventually an East Coast Temple.

Often times we'll go contacting down the streets of Yuli (well, the "street" of Yuli, there's like, 3 streets that have a good amount of people on them during the day), and we'll run into people who tell us, "You ran into me like, 3 days ago," or, "The missionaries talked to us three months ago," or, "You already gave me that pamphlet," or, "The sister missionaries just talked to us on that side of the street." We kinda share the downtown area with the sisters because the place is so small, and that's where the people are.

Our area is rather large, but once you leave the "downtown-ish" area, then you're on the train traveling for about 20 minutes to get to the next city. Still haven't done that while I've been here, but one day, we'll just have to find some time to go down and visit a few members and potentials in those farther away places.

Last week, I finished the New Testament, and there was some really cool stuff in the Epistle of James (that I'm sure we've all heard before) that I thought was really cool, that I wanted to talk about. But first, a pop quiz. What is the most powerful part of your body? Or rather, what is the most influential part of your body? Think for a moment...

No cheating...

The answer (at least, for today's purposes, and for my purposes) is the tongue. The tongue has the most prominent effect on other people and groups of people, that any other thing, in my opinion. Here's what James has to say on the subject, from James 3:3-5, 7-10:

 3 Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

The tongue has the most prominent effect on mankind. By it, we preach the gospel. By it, are most things communicated. By it, we make friendships. By it, we also break friendships. By it are alliances and wars made; good relationships and bad. So easily is it used to speak good and evil, help and harm. If we can control the tongue, then is life so much better! We then won't offend others, can always uplift others, we won't gossip about others, but will teach others and help others become happier, better, and more righteous people. So easily do we say things we don't always mean, and those things can't be recalled.

So use your tongue for good! That's all for this week. I just really like the Epistle of James, there's so much good stuff in it, including stuff about our language. So, be good to each other!

Have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, January 18, 2015

1/19/2015 Photo-3

Description: My "breaker," my new companion in Yuli; Elder Rasmussen. Yes. He's very tall.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

1/19/2015 Photo-2

Description: Another picture of the Pacific Ocean while traveling on the train.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

1/19/2015 Photo-1

Description: Views from the train while traveling down to my new area.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Mission Letter 1/19/2015

Hello, everybody!

It's been a wonderful week! So much has happened!

First of all, last Wednesday, we had our English Class party. Every 6 weeks, the last week of the transfer, we have an English Party. We have to choose some very American theme, and then host an activity so they can learn some "culture" as well as language. In the past it's been Halloween, Christmas, and this time we did a Birthday Party.

First of all, we have many full grown adults who attend English Class. And when we planned this party (limbo, musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey, and hit the pinata), I was extremely concerned at how such "immature" children's games would be received. But I'll never worry about it again; I think it's hilarious to see how much fun they actually had with our activity! And it was extremely fun for us, too. During our pinata game, we had one guy up to bat first, who really loves baseball. He kept warning us, "Stand back, stand back, this is going to fly very far." The first hit on our poor cereal box airplane (he was using a broom handle as a bat), candy (hi-chews) was flying 50 feet in every direction in the cultural hall. It was hilarious. Here's our pinata (in a picture with me and my trainer):

After English Class, we had "move call madness," which means it was the night the Zone Leaders call us and tell us if we are or not transferring. When they called, they asked who we thought was transferring. We both guessed me, and they confirmed that suspicion. So I packed my bags (almost didn't fit, and they definitely would not have passed the airline weight limit).

Friday was transfer meeting. We discovered I'd be going to little Yuli (玉里)! It's in the middle of nowhere. I'm totally out of any concept of a city. It was about a 5 hour travel (including a train transfer) through beautiful mountains, tunnels, and following the coast. It's almost the farthest away that I could have gotten from my last area. But people are so nice here! There's no ward, just a branch. There were about 31 people at church yesterday, including 4 missionaries and like, 8 children. But this area's been open for a while. Almost everyone we talk to already knows who we are and where our church is, so that's fun.

I have my new companion, my "breaker" as they call it here in the mission field (the companion after your trainer). He's been out for a while; goes home in about 5 months. He's really awesome. He's also from Utah; I'll have to send a picture in another email (my pictures are too large, can only send one per email).

Here in Yuli, we live not in an apartment but in a small house. It's very nice, but also extremely rural. There are crazy wild dogs everywhere, they're kinda scary, and literally right next to our bedroom, so right next to my head I swear, is a chicken coop. Ack! That's not the worst part. The worst part is that they have a rooster. Who's body clock isn't set for sunrise, but for 4:30 AM. Every morning I've been here so far, without fail, he's been reporting in at that precise time. But sometimes the "snooze" button doesn't work, and he just crows until we have to get up at 6:30. I really hope I can start sleeping through this soon...

Our mission is still waiting on 28 visa waiters. President Day is hoping they'll be here in abou 2-3 weeks. All their papers have been submitted now, they're just waiting on the beaureacratic process.

Today I wanted to share a little bit about life and prayer. First, this excerpt from Mosiah 24. This is the story about Alma the Elder and his people when they were put in bondage by the Lamanites, and indirectly, by the wicked priests of Noah:

 10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.
 11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.
 12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
 13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
 14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
 15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

First, we note that when we have troubles, we turn to the Lord. This is a good thing. But when things are harder still, we must stick to the Lord rather than complaining and saying, "Why me? This isn't fair!" etc. Because, as verse 12 points out, God knows the thoughts of our hearts, and our needs, and he won't forget us. Finally, the lesson that can be learned most here, is that turning to God won't necessarily make the problem go away; we need trials and problems in life to progress. We can be safe in the assurance of two things: 1) God won't give us more than we can handle, and 2) He will still help us, even if that isn't by taking away the problem. We can see that he did strengthen the people of Alma so they could bear the same burdens. And eventually, he took away their burden.

I hope you all have a wonderful week! I know I will! Our P-Day plan today is go hike up to a hopefully cool waterfall somewhere around here. There will be some pictures next week (as well as a couple coming in a few seconds).

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Monday, January 12, 2015

These are the photos taken by one of my Mom's classmates.  You can see my trainer and I on our bikes WAY back there in the second photo.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mission Letter 1/12/2015

Hello, friends and family!

Last Preparation Day we went down to the mission headquarters so my companion could have a Temple Recommend interview, and while waiting, we saw this magazine on the desk. It's like the Taipei City magazine or something like that, and the front cover is the Salt Lake Temple and two missionaries. So I opened up to "see what it's about" (as if I could read Chinese). And, while all I know is that there's an amazing article about Mormon's in the city magazine, I also discovered that somehow I had found my way into it as well.

On the right hand page, middle picture, is a picture of me with one of my temporary companions when I first arrived in Taiwan. I didn't even realize they took that picture of us when they had all 30 of us go contacting in the park on the first day, but I guess they decided it was what they wanted to put in the newspaper. So, I'm world famous now. 

Not only for the newspaper but also for disease. When I was in the MTC, I don't know if you remember, I was sick. And then everyone else in the Chinese department got sick, so they called it The Ploeg [Plague]. And then the past couple weeks, the entire mission has been getting sick, including Sister Day, the President's wife. And someone told her, "Just call it The Ploeg." So now, not only am I MTC famous, I'm also famous (as a disease) in the entire Mission Office and the rest of the Mission. Wonderful. 

This past week I reached my 6 month mark. Nothing really feels different; except it's weird when you notice how fast time really does fly; my mission is already 1/4 over. AHHHHH! And I'm still with my trainer. Hah. Only until Friday, though (probably).

The new missionaries are still not coming. We're very sad about that, because we're still regularly losing missionaries every transfer. We're still waiting on November's missionaries, I think December's missionaries, and now January's missionaries. Because there are tripanionships all over the mission, this Friday (transfer day) they're going to close several areas and combine others and get rid of all the tripanionships. We still don't know when the new missionaries will arrive. 

So this week had some weird coincidences and miracles and etc. The other day we were contacting down along the Bike Path in Bali, one of the places where the most people are. We ran into this group of people who were kinda sightseeing together, and we tried talking to them. We eventually found out that they were school friends, classmates, (and I was just thinking about all the connections my Mom, who is Taiwanese, has with her classmates here). So we tried talking to them, but they didn't really want to talk to us, but they told us they had an LDS classmate who lived in Utah, and who had a son who was serving in the Taiwan Taipei area. They then asked if we knew a Dai Zhanglao, and we told them no, don't think so. But we gave them some tracts and said have a nice day. While we were talking to them, one of the people randomly took a picture of us. We thought that the person who took that picture of us was a little weird, because you know, white people in a oriental place, sometimes they look at you as a spectacle and will just randomly take pictures; because this person without saying a word stepped in front of us, pulled out her phone, and just took a picture. She didn't ask if she could or anything, so we figured it was just people saying, "Oh look, white people! I need a picture." So, that was extremely interesting. This week, I received an email from my Mom, with the picture that the lady had taken. She'd found it on her classmates Facebook page on accident, and sent it to me. So, while they weren't interested, it was a really cool experience to run into my Mom's classmates, even though we didn't realize who they were, and they didn't realize who I was.

This week I wanted to share a bit about what I studied in the New Testament recently: Charity. In Corinthians 13, Paul talks a lot about charity. While I was in the MTC, we had a devotional where they talked to us about charity. They said, no matter how good of teachers we became, no matter what we did, how we did it, how effective we were, or anything, it was nothing if we didn't have charity. Here's what Paul says: 

 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

They likened it to this: think of a trumpet. It plays very loudly, and everyone can hear it. But if it's not playing something specific, if it's not playing well or correctly, it's loud, annoying, and it gives people headaches. So they likened it to us. If we talk and teach, but we don't have charity and love the people, then we're loud, annoying, and we give people headaches. We don't want to give people headaches. 

If we develop charity, we really are almost like Christ, because in my opinion, from charity springs all other righteousness. Such as all pride is the source of all wickedness, if we can have charity, then all things follow. Or, also, as we work on all other things, then we can get charity. Because charity is the PURE love of CHRIST. It's an attribute (and gift) above many (I won't say all, because eternal life and the gift of the Holy Ghost are pretty high up on the list, too).

And what is charity? Moroni 7:

 45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and isnot puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
 46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity,which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
 47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Develop charity so that at the last day, it shall be well with you.

Shoutout to my friend Alex Welch who got his call to the very best mission in the whole world, the Taiwan Taipei Mission. By his MTC entry date, he should arrive in Taiwan the week of my birthday. In fact, I think his arrival in Taiwan will be the day after my birthday. Good present... Yay! It's going to be awesome. I call being his trainer now.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mission Letter 1/5/2015

Hello, everyone, from the wonderful, mysterious land of Taiwan.

Last Preparation Day we went to the National Palace Museum in Shilin. 

(Yes, I realize that picture doesn't actually have any of the missionaries that went in it.) It's quite an amazing place. It has like, 600,000 ancient objects, or something like that, in it's collection. Basically, it was everything that was in the Forbidden City, and they packaged it all up and took it to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war, when the government fled to Taiwan. Something like that. They also have a Jadeite cabbage. It's apparently the pride of the museum, or at least, the best marketed part. There was a Liahona article about it around two months ago. So, yeah. The museum was pretty cool. Half our district and our Zone Leaders went to it together.

The other day I was at the church on the 3rd floor, and all of a sudden everything started shaking; the whole building wobbled, the couch I was sitting on, all shook for about 6 seconds. My first thought was, "Earthquake! Get out!" and my next thought was, "Use the elevator!" Which in hindsight is an extremely bad decision. But the shaking stopped, and we all lived. That was the first earthquake that I've ever actually noticed in my life. And that was one of the more exciting things that happened last week (shows how good our week was). 

In 4 days, I reach the 6 month mark of my mission. It's difficult to believe that it's already 1/4 over. Wow. Certainly some of the fastest (and slowest) times of my life. Every day lasts forever, every week lasts a minute. Transfers are not this Friday but the next, so maybe I'll get to see some new places in Taiwan, new scenery to send pictures of.

It was New Years! But nothing actually feels different. We still went to bed at the pre-appointed time, and didn't watch the fireworks off of the giant building that we can (almost, not quite) see from our house. But we had to sleep. That was fun. I like sleep. As a missionary, because for 2 years, there is not even one opportunity to sleep in, ever, I treasure every precious minute of it. I find myself very upset when I wake up in the middle of the night, because I'm wasting precious sleep time. So that's my New Years Eve story.

So, as missionaries, we have these training DVD's, movies, I guess; it's called, The District. And we watch those pretty frequently. They're in episode format, kinda like a series. I guess that's to make them slightly more attractive to youth? I don't know. But anyway, in one of the videos, they ask one of the Sister Missionaries, "What bothers you most on your mission," or "What makes you most upset?" And she replied, "People's agency!"

Which is very true. Sometimes as a missionary, that is extremely frustrating. I'm in an area that is being "reopened" after about 2-3 years of a break. And things are coming really slowly. Firstly, it's a smaller area, and has a smaller population than many other places in Taiwan, and secondly, there were no investigators or anything when we showed up, so we had to just start from the basics. And sometimes we'll have an entire day, about 9 hours of contacting, and only have one lesson on the street. And that person will listen, will take a Book of Mormon, and then when we are done and try to set up another time will tell us, "That's not convenient. I enjoy listening to stories about Jesus Christ, but I don't want to change my religion." We tell him, "But if this is true, imagine the impact it would have on EVERYTHING. Can we just meet with you again to keep sharing with you this message?" "No, thank you, I don't want to change my religion."

 27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all thingsare given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

It's just kinda frustrating when you feel like you're doing a ton of work, but there's never much to show for it. So all I have to say to you today, is USE YOUR AGENCY WISELY. Think before doing anything. It may change eternity. Actually, let me rephrase that: it WILL change eternity. Good luck.

Have a wonderful week! I hope you haven't broken your New Year's Resolutions yet! If you have, you can always make some new ones for Chinese New Year. That's February 16, if you already need to plan on that.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Friday, January 2, 2015

Some Recent Photos

This is the new chapel in Danshui, across the river from Bali, that had the grand opening recently.

With my senior companion in Bali:

Baptism of the first convert whom we taught in Bali: