Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mission Letter 4/27/2015

Dear family and friends,

It was another awesome week in Zhongli. This picture is in a member's home yesterday, Brother Wu (pictured on right). He is our Ward Mission Leader, and I'm sure many missionaries would agree, he is perhaps the best one in this mission. Bottom left is Sister Lu, a recently returned home missionary (she served in the Taiwan Taipei Mission and came back to visit). Then you've got the bishop, one of his counselors, various family members, and the other Sister missionaries in our ward. They fed us food (upon food upon food) and then had fruit dessert; I was stuffed. Members in Taiwan are way too nice to us missionaries (I'm sure the whole world is like that, though).

Last Monday we had a meal with the Zhou family, who a few years ago were service missionaries in China. They spent the entire night, showing us pictures of them and their children back in China, and telling us stories about going around China, attending various branches throughout China, and other service activities, showing people about Family History.

That family, they live in a city about 30 minutes (bike ride) from our house. That night it started raining lightly, and then about 5 minutes before we were about to return home, it started raining heavily. And we did not expect it to rain. And it did not let up. And we just had our short-sleeve white shirts and pants. We came home that night drenched from head to foot, and we turned on the heaters to dry out our shoes. When I took my shoes off, I then went to the balcony to pour the water out. But no problem. Rain is fun. Typhoons will be even more so.

We met with one of our investigators this week, Brother Huang. We planned to teach the Plan of Salvation, but we never got to that. We also took a member about his age, who I personally hope will one day be his friend, who basically spent the whole time answering our investigator's questions about "bai-bai," or ancestor (and other gods) worship. In Taiwan, they worship ancestors and other specific gods; it's rather confusing, and I don't quite understand. So, because we, as missionaries, don't really understand this part of the culture, it's always wonderful to have a member, who almost always has the same background, who can help explain. And it went really well; next time we'll continue with the purpose of life. He's already keeping commitments, like reading the Book of Mormon and praying, and he feels like prayer does have an effect; now we just need to focus on church attendance.

This week we also had the mission tour with Elder Gong of the First Quorum of the Seventy. That was really cool; he's the member of the Seventy over the entire Asia Area, but he's not an Area Seventy. He's the kind that is called until he is 70 years old, and he lives (now) in Hong Kong, because of his assignment there. But he came and provided some trainings on Families, Stakes and Temples. He said as we focus on Familes, we build Stakes, and strengthening Stakes is how we build Temples. The purpose of Stakes is to help people prepare to receive the blessings of the temple, and that's how they're described in the Doctrine and Covenants.

D&C 82:14 For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.

After that cool training, we ate lunch. For lunch, we had Costco pizza (for my first time in Taiwan), and Elder Gong also ordered ice cream. Nine gallons of it. He expected us (about 35 missionaries) to be able to finish that. There was no way, especially after the like, 15 boxes of pizza they gave us. But it was a most glorious, filling lunch. 

The day following the mission tour, my whole district fell sick; at least, one missionary from each companionship. We all got a 24-hour flu that put a couple of us out of business for a day. That was no fun. But we're all completely better now, which is a big blessing. 

During the mission tour meeting, President Day shared with us the story of Lazarus. He shared with us a few things, including the fact that Jesus Christ knew, from the beginning, what was going to happen; He knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, and thus said that the sickness would show forth the power of God. Eventually, when they made it to the tomb, and Christ asked them to remove the stone, Martha said, "Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days." But Christ replied,

"Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?" (John 11:40).

President Day told us, if we believe and let the Lord help, we to can see the glory of God; if Christ can raise Lazarus from the dead, he can help us "resurrect" an investigator (help them keep investigating or start progressing); he can us "resurrect" an area, a companionship, or anything else. He can help a Less Active come back to church. He can do anything, if we would first believe. 

I know that God can help us do anything, if we fully trust him and seek first His will. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to serve here in Taiwan on a mission. I know this is God's work. 

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mission Letter 4/20/2015

Dear family and friends,

Hello! It's been another wonderful week here in Zhongli. In fact, about two hours ago, we had a pretty good earthquake that rocked us in our apartment during studies for about a minute, it felt. We live on the 7th floor of a 21 floor building, which made that earthquake pretty fun as we shook from side to side. But it wasn't bad. Absolutely no one was panicking; we looked out the window at the people just walking down the street as if nothing had happened. I guess earthquake's are pretty common in Taiwan.

When I got transferred here to Zhongli, I was made District Leader. That was about a week and a half ago. Four days after being assigned as District Leader, I had to do my first baptismal interview. There's no training for how to do these, no one told me how the process should go, so you might imagine how I felt, without any clue or hints on really how to hold a baptismal service, aside from the baptismal interview questions. But, I would say that with a lot of relying on the Spirit, and encouragement from my companion before the interview, the whole process went extremely smoothly. The interview took about an hour; I don't know how long most interviews take, or if I just talk a lot. But it was a really cool experience.

Then later that night, he called and asked me to baptize him! There on the left are the sisters that taught him, and on the right, obviously is me, and my new companion, Elder Ribar. It was a pretty cool day, and an awesome baptismal service. 

Here in Zhongli, we have an incredibly large English Class, especially compared to my previous areas. There were probably about 15-20 people in our Advanced Class, and there are 4 classes here in this area; Children, Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced. So, you might say we have a large English program here. And it makes classes a whole lot more fun (in my last area, the entire program probably had 10 people at the very most, and only 2-3 in Advanced class).

The English program here is truly an excellent finding tool. When students come to English, sometimes they bring friends, and the English program (while we do teach regular, conversational English), brings people into the church and into contact with missionaries. Every week, we have one hour of English, and then another half hour of Spiritual share, which is basically what the people who come to English class get to hear in exchange for their English education. But it's really cool, because we can then preach the gospel in a non-threatening way, and we're not having to chase people down the street in order to teach them.

Speaking of chasing people down the street, we had a truly funny experience this week with a guy named Brother Xin. At the beginning of last week, we ran into him on a street corner, where he stands and tries to convince people to buy houses. He wasn't busy, so we had a full lesson with him (about 45 minutes, in the park) and gave him a Book of Mormon; set a baptismal date, and got his phone number. A few hours after that, he sent us a text saying, "I suddenly have a desire to attend a Christian church, so I don't think I'll have an opportunity to go to your guys' church." We were like, what? We tried calling him, but he said he was busy and didn't want to talk to us, and hung up.

A few days later, we were walking down the same street, and we saw him there again. He also saw us... and suddenly got a frantic look on his face, ducked down, and started speed-walking/running in the opposite direction. We decided to just calmly walk--following him, in the same direction. He darted into a public restroom, came out, saw us approaching, and ran through the park, down a street, into a housing complex where we couldn't follow him. So, we're not sure what happened; but he doesn't want to talk to us anymore. It made for a really funny experience, though; a fully grown man running from two not-yet-20-year-old's. 

Met a guy in the English class last Wednesday. His name is Miles. He's not our investigator, but he's in a nearby area. He's an eternal investigator, and he knows it. When I talked to him, he told me, "Yeah, I'm an investigator, I've been an investigator for a long time, about two years." He's a pretty cool guy, who knows everything about what we teach, and the sisters who teach him call him a "Dry Mormon," because he still meets with them, he comes to church, etc., but he just hasn't been baptized. We hope that he'll soon find the desire to be baptized within him.

We also found and met with a awesome guy, a new investigator named Brother Huang. His view towards the gospel is that he wants proof of stuff (for example, he told us that people were looking for things like Noah's ark and evidence of the parting of the Red Sea). However, he is still willing to listen with an open mind. His current state of disbelief does not preclude him from learning and trying it out for himself (through prayer and reading). That's something I really appreciated about him, because I've had investigators who don't believe, and thus don't want to try to know for themselves. Those kinds of people, there's not much we can do to help them.

The way that we help them try is tell them to exercise a little bit of faith, just like Alma teaches us in Alma 32. I have come to understand that scripture in a new way since being on a mission. 

The way to understand for ourselves the reality of God and the truthfulness of the gospel is through CPR; Church, Pray, Read. But the thing is, we need to exercise that small particle of faith first; if we read without any intent to apply or learn, then we won't learn anything. If we pray without any expectation of an answer, or already dead set against the existence of a God, it's very hard for us to receive anything in return. We must exercise a little particle of faith, and then expend some effort through attending Church, Praying, and Reading the scriptures. If we do these things with a sincere heart and real intent, then we must receive an answer from God. And that is the only way.

I hope you all have a most excellent week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mission Letter 4/13/2015

Dear everybody,

It's been an amazing week! In both Yuli and my new wonderful place, Zhongli! Zhongli is out somewhere near Taoyuan. I'm not entirely sure where it is... but I just know that I'm in it, and because it's a giant city (which I've never been in up to this point in my mission), I'm just kind of following my awesome new companion around. His name is Elder Ribar, by the way; he is one transfer "younger" than me; we met each other in the MTC, during my last three weeks there. He's from Indiana, and he's really cool.

Starting in Yuli, our golden investigator, Liu JM, had an excellent lesson. First off, she'd already read through Jacob now, and she didn't have any questions. In fact, she said that she'd also researched some other stuff (other books, we weren't sure which) which helped explain to her about why "wars in the Book of Mormon were necessary, why God lets them happen." It also explained some stuff about a premortal life and our purpose in life, which were completely in line with what we teach in the Plan of Salvation... I'm not sure which book she read, but it was awesome. So, she's "reading" and "churching." So we asked about how her praying was going. She told us that she did pray, and that she felt like God was answering her prayers; she related the following experience. 

"I was in bed the other day after a really bad day, and I was angry and frustrated and not feeling very peaceful. So then I prayed and told Heavenly Father, 'I don't feel happy. Help me forget this and sleep well.' About 10 minutes later, I felt much better; much happier, much more peaceful, and I was able to move on from that day." So, we're so pleased with the progress she's been making! But now that I've transferred, I know my old companion Elder Gonzalez and his trainee are going to take really good care of her.

When she found out I was transferring, she sent us a very nice text message wishing us well and also stating something else she'd learnt from the scriptures; "I understand now why God gives us challenges, and that we can overcome them." We sent back something like, "We're so pleased that you understand the scriptures and the gospel so well." She should be baptized next month. And then, to the temple! Which she heard about when our member who we brought along suddenly started talking about baptisms for the dead during the first lesson... Oh well.

But now I'm in Zhongli, with Elder Ribar, and in a much larger district than before. Yuli was a very small place. Zhongli is very big. But it's all very exciting. I don't know much about this place right now, but I'll know more next week and tell you then.

This past Saturday and Sunday we watched conference here in Taiwan, the re-broadcast. Because us missionaries do like to speak Chinese, but we prefer hearing conference in English, we end up watching conference together, and in the case of where I am right now, we watched it with the rest of the zone in English in Taoyuan. Imagine, if you would, 30 missionaries in a single room, watching conference, as many of the speakers (especially the first day) emphasize dating, marriage, and not waiting to long to find "the one" and take care of a family. It's during talks like this where all the missionaries point their fingers at the ones who go home in a month or two saying, "They're talking to you, Elder!"

But I think my favorite was President Uchtdorf's talk on Grace. Mostly because, as a missionary, I have encountered people, especially in the US, who use the term "grace" to say that we don't need to do anything else as people, because it'll do nothing for us. Some people take it to the extent that, if we truly believe Christ is our Savior, and have been "saved," if we killed someone and died the next day, we're still saved. 

I really love how President Uchtdorf said, "Dear brothers and sisters, living the gospel faithfully is not a burden. It is a joyful rehearsal—a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities. We seek to obey our Heavenly Father because our spirits will become more attuned to spiritual things." 

Brother Brad Wilcox said, "We are not trying to earn our way to heaven, we are learning heaven. We are preparing for it. The question, is not only, have you been saved by grace, but have you been changed by it?" (Paraphrased from, "His Grace is Sufficient," Brad Wilcox, not sure where.)

Equally significant is grace's role in our purpose on Earth. Pres. Uchtdorf said,"But the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation—as wonderful as it is—does not fulfill the Father's aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him. With the gift of God's grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward...

"Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God...

"Are we confident and comfortable in our good deeds, trusting in our own righteousness? Are we perhaps a little impatient with those who are not living up to our standards? Are we on autopilot, going through the motions, attending our meetings, yawning through Gospel Doctrine class, and perhaps checking our cell phones during sacrament service?"

May we be changed by grace, not just saved by it. May we more fully rely on the Atonement of Christ, not on what works we may be able to do. For, even if we spent our entire life in the service of God, yet we would be unprofitable servants. Grace is the only way we are saved, and it is a gift freely given to us by a loving God. May we take advantage of it!

I hope you all have a wonderful week! I will take a picture with my companion next week and sent it; the man who we asked to take it made every picture rather blurry. 

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mission Letter 4/6/2015

Dear family and friends,

It's been a wonderful, HOT week here in Yuli. But we saw so many blessings and miracles!

First of all, yesterday, we got a phone call from the Assistants. Well, rather, they wanted to talk to my companion, but I answered the phone. And my companion, who goes home in two transfers, is going to "die a new father." Or, in non-missionary terms, he's training for the next two transfers, starting on Friday. Which means that I'm transferring this week again. I feel like, so far on my mission, I've moved around a lot... which I have...

We have one of the most amazing investigators right now. Her name is Sister Liu, I think I mentioned her last week. This past week, we had another lesson with her. We brought a member to the lesson that she hadn't met before, and we asked him to introduce himself briefly. As soon as he was done, she looked at him and said, "Okay. So how has learning the gospel changed your life?" And thus the entire lesson became devoted to answering her questions, as it usually does. She really thinks about the stories and things in the Book of Mormon; we're always so impressed every time we meet with her. We've known her for two weeks, and she's already almost finished 2 Nephi. That's faster than most Mormons would ever read the Book of Mormon. She asks us questions about the wars, about the reasons for the wars between the two groups of people, she tells us things she's learnt from the stories, and how ever since she met us and the gospel, her life has been so much happier. She set a baptismal date for May 16, and she chose the date herself. So, we're really excited for her.

Summer arrived this week. It's been up in the 90's, and man has it been hot! And this week is also a holiday weekend in Taiwan, called "Saomu." During this holiday, all the Taiwanese go back to their hometowns and go clean the grave yards. Saomu literally translates "tomb-sweeping." So, as a result of that, almost everyone in the Branch here, and all of our investigators went out of town, but Yuli was busier than ever before because more people came back to Yuli than left it. So, we had tons of finding time, which consists of biking up and down streets, talking to everything in sight that moves, and sometimes even things that don't. On Friday, we spent six consecutive hours outside (yeah, it was pretty hot), finding people. But we found some truly awesome people, who wanted to change their lives, turn themselves around, and one even wanted to serve a mission after meeting us. Of course, these people all became referrals for other parts of Taiwan, but that's no problem. Here, we call it "Team Jesus."

Last Monday for P-Day we went to the oceanside. Taiwan truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I also reached my 6-months in Taiwan mark last Friday. We ate steak (very rare here) to celebrate.

Something I wanted to talk about this week is the power of the Book of Mormon. Our investigator, Sister Liu, says that ever since she met us/the church/the gospel/the Book of Mormon, her life has been so much happier. She explained to us how the story of Nephi breaking his bow but not complaining, when even his father was, has helped her have a new outlook on challenges in her life. She told us, that before the phrase, "How are you today," was just a phrase that has a rote answer, but since learning the gospel, that phrase has a lot more meaning to her; she can sincerely answer, "I'm very good. How about you?"

The Book of Mormon is special to our church. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, it is "the keystone of our religion." "The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God's dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel" (Introduction to the Book of Mormon).

"The crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Nephites soon after His resurrection. It puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come."

That's a lot that the Book of Mormon does for us. The Book of Mormon changes lives. It tells us "what [we] must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come." That's pretty important. Everyone should read this book, right?

As missionaries, President Day tells us when we finish reading the Book of Mormon, to keep reading it everyday, in addition to whatever else we read. The Book of Mormon is proof that God still speaks to man in this day and age, and will still speak to you. The Book is true! Go read it again. Study it. Ponder it. Share it with others.

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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