Sunday, February 22, 2015

2/23/2015 Picture-2

CAPTION: Being in Chishang, biking around on tiny little bikes loaned to us by members. It was totally a rice paddy town, made famous by one or two tourist things. We went less-active finding; there was only one out of like, 10 that was actually at home. Still; super fun day.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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2/23/2015 Picture-1

CAPTION: The Taiwanese people, planting rice. This lady, in very deep mud, barefoot, is finishing up what the machine missed. Sorry it's sideways.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Mission Letter 2/23/2015

Hello, everybody!

First of all: a smal side note. The Taiwanese people in the past two weeks have been busy planting rice all over the place. See picture in next email.

It's been the most amazing food filled week over here in Taiwan. Why? 過年 (Guonian)! Also known as Chinese New Year. And during Chinese New Year, everyone on the island (and probably in China as well) leaves wherever they currently live (so, Taipei) and return to their "home city" (which is always from the middle of Taiwan, south; almost no one's "hometown" is in Taipei) and party with their family for a week. So, being here in Yuli, there are many people who call this their hometown.

Thus this was the busiest week of the entire year in Yuli; or at least, so it seemed. Cars filled the normally quiet city, they put traffic cones up and down the main road, people walking everywhere, missionaries having a grand old time talking to people--who all seem to be from Taipei. Finding people who actually lived in Yuli was somewhat of a hardship this week. You walk down the street talking to people, and they're all from Taipei. You go tracting, and Taipei people and people who returned home for Guonian answer. They stuff family members into every corner of the house, as the people come back to their hometown, usually to their parent's home, and bring their children, and they somehow all manage to squeeze sometimes 15 people into one house that normally accomodates four.

Guonian meant good food; because they celebrate by eating good food as a family. Usually cooked at home. It's the best eating week for missionaries, because in Taiwan, very rarely do the members invite us to dinner (unlike the US), but Guonian is when they feed us grandly.

CAPTION: At one of the member's homes in Fuli, and yes, that is a whole fish slapped onto a plate.

We also went up to this tiny litle place called Chishang this past week. First of all, our area is GIANT; because it's the east coast, there's not a ton of members. This place is about 30-40 minutes from Yuli, by train. There is not a single active member that lives in that city, but there are several less actives who we were sent on a mission by the branch president to find. We did find one less-active; she still likes the church, but she hasn't come for about 8 years. She was baptized while living in Taipei, and then moved down here, came for a little bit, and eventually just started "not having enough time." We're hoping we can get her coming back to church soon; the only problem for us is that we almost never go out to Chishang, because it's so far away from where we live. While we were there, however, we borrowed a member's bikes; tiny, cute little things. They were interesting to ride. See next email's picture.

It's already the last week of the transfer! It flew by so fast! And, as usual, no one in the mission currently has any idea if they're transferring or not; that's because "transfer calls" don't come until Wednesday night, and then transfers are on Friday morning. But, more likely than not, neither my companion nor I will be transferring because on average, at least in this mission, you are with every companion for about 2 transfers. Which leaves us together for another transfer, and then we'll see whether I leave Yuli or whether he does.

Being Guonian, lots of members from Taipei came back to Yuli. Which made some things very interesting; at church yesterday, there were about 9 adult members actually living within the Yuli branch boundaries at church; and then about 30 members from Taipei who came back. But there were so few Melchizedek Priesthood holders at church (or any priesthood holders), they didn't know who to give talks to. So, the missionaries basically ran church. I played the piano, Sister Sorenson lead the music and gave a prayer, Sister Van Tonder gave a talk, and Elder Rasmussen blessed the sacrament, gave a talk, and taught Gospel Principles class. Because there were so few members at church to teach lessons, they had everyone meet together for all the meetings to minimize teachers (or rather, use the only ones they had).

Also, during the week, we got a random phone call from someone we didn't know; the number wasn't one we'd called recently, so we were just completely confused. We answered, and the man said he was a "Brother Zhou," who wanted to give us a dinner; he set up a time and a place at a hot pot restaurant. We showed up, not knowing whether to expect a former investigator, a less active, or someone else entirely. We got there, and the man greeted us, telling us that he was from Taipei and came back for Guonian; apparently, every year he feeds the missionaries when he comes back. So nice of him! Also, the hot pot was just totally amazing.

Because it's Chinese New Year, there have been fireworks, rockets, and firecrackers going off sporadically, every hour of the day, everyday of the week. It's kinda fun; you just start ignoring them. There's small children in the park, comletely unsupervised, setting off aerial fireworks in every direction (whether that actually be up into the air or horizontally across the park) and you think, well, that's a little dangerous; let's not contact here.

This week, I'd like to discuss something that James E. Talmage mentions in his book, Jesus the Christ. It's concerning the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. He points out that, in the miracle, he left most of the "doing stuff" parts up to the actual people present. For example, we see in the Gospel of John Chapter 11:

 34 And said, Where have ye laid him?
 39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.
 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Elder Talmage points out that Jesus could already know where Lazarus was laid, and he could have performed any miracle to move the stone out of the way and loose Lazarus from the grave clothes. But he let the people, the family, take actions first, which demonstrate their faith; and then was the miracle performed in only doing what the people themselves couldn't do.

There's a "parable," if you want to call it that, that my companion often likes to tell people on the street. He tells people, that God often relies on us to first take action. He is a very much "rely on yourself" kind of God, and then he helps us. He says, "As missionaries, we don't go to the chapel and sit down and pray, 'Dear Heavenly Father, please bless that some people with interest in the gospel will walk in through the door to talk to us.' Instead, we go out on the street, shaking hands with every person we can, trying to share our message." So, basically, as we work for ourselves, we can then ask the Lord "that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul" (2 Nephi 32:9). So, Go Forth and Do!

I hope you all have a most wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mission Letter 2/16/2015

Hello, everybody!

First of all, I started off last week on Preparation Day by biking and hiking approximately 2 million miles up Everest. Well, not quite; but the bike/hike took all day and we gained a considerable amount of elevation. But it was so beautiful! And there were almost no other people there on the trail. We also passed a couple waterfalls. Yuli is just surrounded by so many beautiful things; the East Coast of Taiwan, particularly in the more rural areas like Yuli, is a treasure trove of scenic locations. So many missionaries in this mission never have the opportunity to be on the East Coast; I feel extremely privileged!

(Consider the fact that when we started, we were even lower than the elevation of that river in the background. I'll send a couple more photos, but only one fits per email.)

After that day's activities, and a couple other times this week, we had a "qingke," which means a member fed us for dinner. Now, as a missionary in Taiwan, we almost always eat at restaurants on the street or the like. Which is good; you pay a certain amount of money, and it limits your intake... When we go to members houses, we feel no restriction on eating; in fact, we feel obligated to at least try everything, and if they take us to a restaurant, finish everything. Which means that I eat more than I should when a member gives us food, because missionaries typically have an inability to control how much we eat. Oh well. Everyone tells me, "You still have quite some time on your mission. It's the last 6 months you have to worry about."

Here in Taiwan, GuoNian is approaching (Chinese New Year); in fact, it starts this Wednesday. So, for the past couple of weeks, students have been on Winter Break (because in Taiwan, of course, it's not in line with Christmas but rather with GuoNian). In Yuli, many of the students go out of the city to what could be considered "boarding high schools" and just come back on the weekends. But now, many of them seem bored out of their minds. But we have this one youth in our ward; last week he asked us on Wednesday to open the church for him so he could go practice the piano. He spent the entire day there; from just before noon until 9 PM; helping us with 2 lessons, and attending English Class. He's a really cool kid; WAY dedicated to the piano. Really good, too. It's just something he loves, I guess.

As for English Class, because Yuli is a tiny, tiny place, it doesn't always have many people who attend. Before I arrived, they kinda got things going a bit; now, we have a teacher for every class, in the hope that given a couple weeks, we'll be able to build up a student base. So this week, I taught an Intermediate Class; which meant I did one on one tutoring with one of the sister's investigators. His English truly is spectacular; he can't understand a full sentence I say, and he can't speak a full sentence, but he can read and write almost flawlessly. Apparently lots of Chinese are this way; they can learn the language, but they have no one to practice it with; they can understand words and sentences, but they don't know quite how they're pronounced. So, until I get more students in my class, we'll be learning lots and lots of pronunciation rules, as well as listening skills.

And that student also happened to have his baptismal service this week! He was one of the Sister's baptisms. Here in Yuli, in our rented church that is above an internet cafe, we have another portable "kiddy-pool" as our baptismal font. When he was baptized, the baptizer, said the prayer, and then (almost violently) extraordinarily swiftly (blink your eyes and you would've missed it) threw him under the water and pulled him up; now, everyone was standing on one side facing the font, except for Elder Rasmussen and me, who were standing at the head; bad place. Water EVERYWHERE, particularly on us two. We were drenched in our suits. Everyone started chuckling a little when they looked at us as we shuffled to a different spot because the baptism had to be redone (he didn't completely go under; his foot floated up, every time until about the 5th or 6th time).

Then I had Exchanges in Taidong (or, as the English is weirdly translated, Taitung) with the Zone Leaders. It was fun. I get the best of both worlds; the small beauty of Yuli, and occasionally the busy hustle of Taidong City.

That night while I was there, at about 4:08 in the morning, I was rudely awakened by my body, bed, the apartment, and the whole island of Taiwan being shaken for what felt like at least 20 seconds. It startled me to death; I was lying in bed like, "What is happening?" It was only after about 15 seconds where I was like, "Oh! Earthquake!" and then proceeded to stay in my bed until it was over. I don't know if that was the best reaction; but no one else in the area seemed to be worried about it in the slightest. Later we discovered that the epicenter, which was offshore by Hualien, had experienced an approximately 6.4 earthquake; but the highest felt on land was about 4.1. Still; it impressed me (finding out later), that the earthquake was felt along the entire coast of Taiwan. Maybe Taiwan is just that small... I don't know.

We have new missionaries finally coming! 10 visas were approved (so, not all of them are coming yet, there's still another odd 16 or so plus whatever more will soon be added to the piling list for next transfer), and they should be arriving for our transfer meeting in about a week and a half. I probably won't move; missionaries here are typically with companions for 2 transfers, unless they "go eternal" which would be 3 or more transfers. The mission is hoping that the rest will also get their visas before transfers, or we'll have to close down/consolidate another couple areas.

Shout out to all the friends who have been emailing me; many of whom are missionaries or are preparing to depart. Recently I've started reading through the Doctrine and Covenants; it's been a long time since I've read that, and I thought it was about time for me to refresh. I ran across this section this morning, which everybody knows about, but I thought I'd refresh everyone's mind with a thought about missionary work. From D&C 18:

 10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
 11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
 12 And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
 13 And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
 14 Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
 15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
 16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!

Now, missionaries are missionaries. Everyone should serve a mission--it's first of all, an incredible experience, in addition to being a lot of fun (they're always emphasizing to us finding joy in the journey, not planning for the future that will never be). Think about the promise God has given us; if we labor all our days in preaching the gospel and bring only one soul back to God, think of the joy we will have if we save many! Remember that God usually influences people not by the thousands, not by hundreds, but one at a time. We all want to have a major influence over others; we all want to baptize millions of people, we all want to bring the entire ward to activity, and have no less active members; but it starts with one person.

"Every member, a missionary!" said President David O. Mckay. Everyone knows someone who is perhaps struggling in their testimony, or isn't a member. And remember, missionary work isn't only to those who don't come to church; missionaries visit members! They visit very active ones, too! To be a member missionary, you can first come up with a list of names of people who aren't members or aren't at the strongest point in their testimony; a relative, a co-worker, a friend who's recently had a death in the family, a baby, or recently moved, etc. Member missionary work can be as simple as hometeaching and visiting teaching. It starts with small things, and grows. Remember the joy of the shepherd who left the ninety and nine to find the one lost sheep, "And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost" (Luke 15:6).

I hope you all have a most wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mission Letter 2/9/2015

Dear Family and Friends,

This has been another wonderful week! Flew by so fast! The entire week, here on the East Coast, all the missionaries were SUPER busy, particularly the Missionary Leaders (like District Leaders, Zone Leaders, and Sister Training Leaders). Let me explain...

First of all, there were more trainings and conferences this week than I ever imagined were possible. On Tuesday, we had an all-day Specialized Zone Conference in Hualien, so we all went on a 2 hour train ride up to Hualien to their wonderful chapel (which hopefully one day soon will be a Stake Center) for a Training from 9am-5pm, presented by President Day and his wife, the Assistants, and the Temple Sisters (here, that's kinda like Assistants, but Sisters).  As a result of that training...

We all became Facebook missionaries! We have so many restrictions and requirements, but that's okay; it's temporary, and it's to "hasten the work." So, as a result of this, I will be closing my actual Facebook account that many of you know (that's required), and it will stay closed until I've finished my mission. So no, I didn't unfriend you. Calm yourself. Also, you can't be friends with me on the new one I make for my mission. You also can't chat with me. Thanks in advance... Of course, you're allowed to see what I post, but it will also all be in Chinese. Good luck.

At the end of that training, I also passed off what is called in our mission, "Phase 2." The mission has a language program to guide our studies; Phase 1, which is memorizing phrases and words from Preach My Gospel; Phase 2, which is 2000 words of common usage in the Chinese language to help us become fluent speakers; and Phase 3, which is all the characters used in the Book of Mormon. So I've finished Phase 2, meaning I'm semi-conversational (or at least, that's what they think), and so will be starting Characters. But they're frustrating too; it's like trying to learn a whole new language, after learning a whole new language.

Wednesday we had Zone Training Meeting, meaning we all took a 1 hour train ride down to Taidong (being in Yuli is just, we're the little people that no one knows what to do with, we just get kicked from place to place, but nothing ever happens in our little town). Then we came back up to Yuli.

Thursday and Friday, my companion (a District Leader) had an all-day training up in Taipei. So he took a several hour train ride, with another District Leader from Taidong, up to Taipei for a few days, returning late Friday night.

Because of the Leadership training in Taipei that my companion had to attend, I got to go on a 3-day exchange--with a Native missionary, Elder Huang! It was a rare opportunity--there are becoming less and less native missionaries here in Taiwan, most get their call to go abroad now. We only have 6 Native Elders in my mission, and they all have less than a year left.

​(Caption: Traveling the 1 hour long train ride between the two areas we were covering for a few days.)

It's kinda funny; while on exchanges in Taidong, I thought that city was ENORMOUS! Really, for Taiwan standards, I think it's actually small-ish. Of course, it's big enough to have a small airport, but I don't think it flies anything international... People keep telling me I've "been in Yuli too long," but really, just my entire mission in Taiwan, I've been in teeny-tiny little towns.

I want to share a scripture that we all know, and maybe I've shared it before; but it is really just an important scripture, and contains one of the truest principles in life. From the Book of Ether, Chapter 12:

 27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

This scripture is so true! Because we all have weaknesses. All of us could be a little more humble; don't wait for the circumstances of life to force it upon you! Better to find humility yourself than to be forced later to realize how much everyone needs God, and the role that he plays in our life. This scripture starts with a truthful statement, and an if-then statement; if we take a certain action, we then have a certain promise waiting in store for us. Change is hard for people; it's hard to change yourself; but with God, nothing is impossible.

Recently I've been reading Jesus the Christ by Jame E. Talmage. An excellent book. I advise all people to read it; it's extremely fascinating. It has helped me to realize the importance of absolutely EVERY SINGLE THING Christ did in his lifetime; behind everything, there is a meaning. The book is amazing. By reading this book, I believe you'll be following Moroni's invite, as written in Ether 12:

41 And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen.

I hope you all have a wonderful, wonderful week! I know I will!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mission Letter 2/2/2015

Hello, everybody!

Last week was awesome! Always so busy. Missionaries are always so busy. We're always looking for the ways to make the most use of our time. I think most missionaries will have a problem when they go home; here's some free time! What? You want me to relax, by myself, for extended periods of time? Recently returned missionaries probably feel kinda lonely and antsy...

Last Preparation Day was extraordinarily fun. After emailing in a somewhat hurried manner, we went and a member offered to take us to this waterfall up around where he lives, about a 15 minute drive from our city. So, we went to the waterfall, and starting at the bottom, where it runs off, we climbed a very considerable distance, up the giant boulders in the stream to reach the actual waterfall itself. It took quite a while, but bouldering up to it was such incredible fun! And a good workout, I may mention...

Yes, I realize that from this point you can't appreciate the great distance and all the climbing that we did to get here, but at least you can see the waterfall (that's the important part, right?). It was big, and extremely pretty.

​I have never before seen such a confusing set of religious beliefs than as I have encountered here in Taiwan. The main prevalent religions here in Taiwan are the "traditional Daoism and Buddhism." The only problem here is that, they've kinda become mixed together, and they barely know what the difference is themselves. Some of them literally don't know the difference (neither do we, as missionaries); some of the Buddhists believe in God, some don't. It's all extremely confusing. Basically, the only one clear thing is that they worship their ancestors; everything else is minor details that they can seemingly choose to incorporate or ignore.

I can personally attest that cold showers are not fun. First, we realize that it's currently winter time. Secondly, you should understand that in Taiwan, there are no gas lines; gas isn't fed into your house; rather, it comes in the form of a gas tank. That plugs into the back of your house, and you use it until it runs out (obviously). The gas runs the hot water machine, and the (gas) stoves here. When it runs out, you order a new one from like, the local "refilling" store, and they deliver a new tank.

The only problem was that we ran out Sunday morning. So, not only were we not warmed up from exercise, which might have helped in light of the cold shower, but we also couldn't order a new one. Thus, we also had cold showers today (Monday). Brrrrrrrr! But it's okay; we now have a new tank, so tomorrow won't be as exciting as these past two days. There is one thing I can say for the cold showers; I never knew how fast I could shower, and how little water I could use, until now. I guess that's a benefit...

It's also amazing; so many people have bikes here. The oldest grandmothers will often be spotted swerving down the street. Fully grown adults mount and dismount bikes with more grace and ability than I can. They'll like glide, standing on one side of the bike up to the supermarket, and I'm like, wow, I'm jealous. If they don't have a bike, then they have a moped. You would never believe how many mopeds there are here. At every traffic light, there's a box at the front of the lane where cars are supposed to stay out of, so all the mopeds can pull to the front of the line. Traffic here is a mess; it's comical to watch.

So, last week, we had quite the interesting experience. Every night, every companionship is required to text in to their leaders at 9 or 9:30 to let them know we're home safe and sound. So, that means District Members to the District Leaders, District Leaders to the Zone Leaders, Zone Leaders to the Assistants to the President, and then directly to the President himself. Now, my companion is the District Leader here in Yuli. There's only one other companionship of sisters here, and last week, on one night, they forgot to text us. So my companion forgot to text the Zone Leaders. And we went to bed at 10:30, and were both asleep in no time.

Now, all the rest of what I'm about to tell, I slept through, and found out the following evening, from the sisters. At around 10:40, the Zone Leaders started calling us, to find out if we were home safe. Then they called the sisters, because they didn't know if they were home safe either. They found them at home, and told them they couldn't get a hold of us, and asked when the last time they saw us was. They kept calling our cell phone and home phone, for like 20 minutes, then notified the Assistants.

The Assistants started attempting to contact us, all without any success. They notified President Day, who started calling us and our home phone (we discovered later, he'd called our home phone about 15 times). He then found a member in the ward to come knock on our door and find out if we were home. About midnight, that member arrived at our house's gate, which was locked. His wife managed to climb over it (I'm really impressed, I think the way it's set up, I would have a difficult time climbing over it), and then he started banging on our door and calling my companions name. My companion finally woke up (somehow I still didn't), and then was put in touch with the Assistants, who were finally assured of our safety. Then the ward member, President Day, the Assistants, the Zone Leaders, and the Sisters in our district were all finally able to go to sleep (just after midnight); they were all waiting up to hear of our fate. So, we're very grateful for the care and concern of all our leaders, and the system that is in place to ensure our safety.

This past week, I encountered an awesome little article in the January Liahona.  I would like you all to read this article from last month's Liahona, entitled "A Potato for the Teacher:"

I love this article! I feel that it has one of the greatest messages ever. Particularly as a missionary, I guess our only focus is the welfare of the members and the church in the areas where we serve; and, without any distractions, we all wish that members and wards would be perfect; if everyone applied the principles in this article, that would be a little easier to accomplish.

Summarized briefly, the article is about a student who gives her teacher a present; a potato, cleaned and polished, with the words, "A potato for the teacher, because I didn't have an apple." And the lesson that the articles states, and we can all apply, is that we don't always have to wait for the best thing or the perfect opportunity before doing service; what we have now will do. Our best is all that is asked; a potato, because we didn't have an apple. Timely service, as opposed to the service you imagined, is what's important. If someone needs you today, don't wait until the weekend where you might have more time to bake them bread. All little things count.

Follow the Spirit. It is the guide. When it tells you to do something, JUST DO IT. Following promptings shows that you're willing and able to receive more promptings.

I hope you all have a wonderful week! It's been a great, extremely fast week here in Yuli. We're pulling up real quick on the halfway mark this transfer. Time's flying! 加油!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

NOTICE: This email message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply email and destroy all copies of the original message.