Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mission Letter 6/1/2015

Dear Family and Friends,

This week was delightful and a little harder, all at the same time.

I had my first exchange of the transfer, and I went with a missionary who just arrived about two weeks ago, and thus is currently in training in my district. His name is Elder Taylor. He's a cool guy; but you definitely feel the "greenie" in him, and then I think back to when I first came on island and I wonder if I was the same, and then I answer myself, "Yes, I probably was." And then I'm like, "Wow! You really change on a mission." And that is the biggest understatement in the history of ever. 

​CAPTION: Elder Taylor and I, concluding our exchange>​

On the bright side, the bishop took all the missionaries out to dinner, to some "Chinese Style" food place (different from Taiwanese Style food, should any smart aleck say that I'm already eating Chinese food everyday). While there, I got to eat some seaweed, pigs ears, "salty eggs," and other delicacies. In eating them, it wasn't much of a problem for me, because if I just didn't think about it to much and imagine how this piece fit into the body, it wasn't too weird. Some textures were more than interesting, but definitely not the worst stuff I've ever eaten. Some of it was actually pretty good. But we have a Sister Missionary in training in the ward, who when she picked it up with her chopsticks; you could just see on her face that she was completely grossed out by the idea of sticking that in her mouth. But she managed to swallow one piece, so that was good. 

This week had some pretty slow days, where we walked around for the better part of the day, but still nobody would talk to us. That's not typical of this place where I'm serving right now; there's just so many people, you can normally find someone to talk to. But this past week, when we were able to find people, many (or most) lived outside of our area, so they became nice referrals for other missionaries (including an awesome family that we met yesterday; they were so cool! But they live in Taoyuan).

There are three stages to missionary work; planting, growing, and harvesting. I feel like recently, and like, my whole mission, I've just been planting and planting and planting. Sometimes helping in the growing department, but I always seem to leave or never see the harvesting part. It's pretty sad, but I guess all elements are necessary, and you can't always be the harvester.

Truly not much happened this week; we got "fanged" a lot (stood up), which the Taiwanese people are way to comfortable with doing; setting up a time and then just never coming or cancelling like, two hours beforehand. That's one of the biggest barriers in Taiwan; the endless fanging. It's definitely not fun, but on the bright side, it gives us extra time in the day to go contacting and finding other people. We do tons of finding. But that's okay.

Patience is a Christlike attribute. Something that I definitely need to work on. Because things never happen immediately. Immediate gratification is a bad thing to always be focused on; whether that be for bad things, or good (like more baptisms). It almost never comes without a struggle. So, 2 Nephi 31:20 says:

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

Press forward! With steadfastness! Have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mission Letter 5/25/2015

Hello, everybody!

So, it's been a lovely, gorgeous, wet, wet, rainy, drizzly, down-pouring, occasionally thundering, week. It's literally been raining for like a week, straight, and it's not quite done yet; however, it's a good thing because we don't have water restrictions anymore. Which is a very nice thing. The not so nice part is that, when it rains, the Taiwanese people evaporate like the wicked witch of the west; they all run into their homes and don't come out again unless absolutely necessary. Which means some people don't come to church, people won't meet with us because it's raining, and talking to people on the street is a little slower, because there aren't many people on the street. But, there's still enough; we're still meeting lots of people. Overall, life is still good.

CAPTION: Last Preaparation Day, most of my District went together to Yingge and made clay bowls/cups/plates. So, of course that warranted a District Selfie pic.

So, I did not transfer last week, so I've got another five weeks in beautiful Zhongli. My companion did not transfer either, so we've got another five weeks together. And though we have a companionship in my District training, my friend did not come to my District here; however, we are in the same zone, so I'll get to see him in about two weeks. I'm really excited for that!

I conducted my second baptismal interview yesterday. The Sister passed. In fact, it was the same set of sister missionaries that I've done both the interview for; that is, of the two baptismal interview I've done, it was the same Sister missionaries that taught the investigator. Basically, they're on fire and doing incredible in their area. So excited for her baptism next week.

Yesterday, after church, the whole ward stuck around, because there was a kid opening his mission call. So we all gathered in the equivalent of the Cultural Hall, and there he opened his call.... to the Taiwan Taizhong Mission! He goes to the mission headquarters in October, and incredibly, he will not be attending an MTC. Not sure why that is, but the way things are are the way things are, right? It's also exciting, because his brother is also currently serving in the Taiwan Taizhong Mission. They could see each other!

Speaking of which, in my mission right now, the Taipei Mission, we have a brother and sister both serving here at the same time. They occasionally get to see each other... isn't that fun?

So, not a ton of stuff out of the ordinary happened this week. But there was a cool little quote that I thought about considerably this past week; "Wherever thou art, do well thy part." It doesn't matter what position we have, what area we're in, whether we're senior companion or junior companion, if we're in a more difficult area or an easier one, as long as we do our part, then God helps us with the rest. Whether it be our calling at home, or as a missionary, as long as we do our part, we shall "prosper." 

We're going to miss President Day. I believe he's on his last transfer of his mission now, and in five weeks we'll lose him and I think about 25 Elders, which includes most of the Zone Leaders and many district leaders in the mission. Basically, we're going to have a really young mission. My District is already really young; of the 8 missionaries, there isn't a single one over 10 months. There's three from my group, two trainees, and three in the middle. 

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mission Letter 5/18/2015

Dear Family and Friends,

This week has been simply incredible. Both for my area, and for the District as a whole. Elder Ribar and I were able to reach 40 lessons this week, 13 Book of Mormon's, and it was a miracle (In the past on my mission, I'd be happy if we reached 20 lessons in a week; that is the mission's Standards of Excellence, which means the goal that President Day wants us to strive for weekly). We've worked extremely hard this week, and focused our efforts a lot on really putting forth 100% in everything we do. And the blessings came! Our District did well overall, too; this week had a total of 102 lessons across the 4 companionships in the District. Last week we had about 63, which is a very stark contrast.

The week started with an exchange with the Taoyuan Zone Leaders. During that day, I learnt a lot about being bold and getting straight to the point (when talking to people) of us being missionaries, declaring our purpose, and inviting people to act. By so doing, we were able to talk to a lot more people, have meaningful lessons, and better judge whether or not people would be ready to accept the gospel or just (in a sense) unwisely use our time.

As a result of our efforts, we also did a ton of Team Jesus this week. I don't know if you've ever heard of Team Jesus before; that means that, when we find out that the person doesn't actually live in our area, we still do our best to help them as if they were our own investigator, and then hand them off as a referral. We had a lot of referrals that we gave to other areas, but Team Jesus usually pays back! We've received some awesome referrals in exchange, entitled, "Golden Investigator!" so we hope that we can help him become a golden member soon. 

Last Wednesday was also Temple Day! It's been a long time since I was able to go to the temple. In our mission, missionaries attend every three months, unless they're on the East Coast of Taiwan. And during the last temple day, I was on the East Coast of Taiwan. So it's been six months, which is still more often than some missionaries get to attend, so I should feel lucky. It was an awesome experience to be able to go. We also got to do sealings while were there, but they were in Chinese, and it's still hard to understand advanced Chinese coming from a like, 80 year old grandfather's mouth. But he was so lovable. 

​CAPTION: My companion, Elder Ribar, and I outside the Taiwan Taipei Temple after our session. The temperature was SO HOT and we were burning up, but that's okay.

Skype last Monday was also really awesome. It was a lot of fun getting to talk to my family at home, and man the time goes really quickly. Next time in December! Which seems far away, but time flies when you're on a mission.

This week is transfers. My friend Alex Welch is coming. Then next transfer is a short transfer. There will only be 5 weeks in the transfer, because President Day wants to do it before he goes home (rather than burdening the newly arrived Mission President with a transfer in like, 5 days). So that'll be exciting.

Other than that, it's simply been an incredible week. We heard a talk in Sunday about the enabling power of Christ's Atonement, and they talked to us about using the Atonement to improve ourselves, and particularly our Stake. They want to establish a new Stake in Southern Taoyuan, and they taught us about doing our duty because God can give us power to help us do His work in addition to what we have to do in our busy lives. He told us about how people will ask him to be released because they have "a test for work" or they have other responsibilities that will take their time for three months or so, and they don't believe they'll have enough time to fulfill their calling. He told us that through the Atonement, and putting God first, only then can we progress, and our Stake progress, and that God will help us. And I know that when we put God first, and rely on him, he can help us do things we never thought possible before. I definitely relearned that this week!

I hope you all have a wonderful week! May God be with you, and may you rely on Him!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mission Letter 5/13/2015

Hello, everybody!

The letter is a little late this week because this week, our Preparation Day was on Wednesday, because it's also our temple day. So this morning, we are going to the temple. So excited! It's been close to six months since I went last; while I was on Taiwan's East Coast, in Yuli, it's just so far away that we get passed by; as long as we're down there, we don't get to attend. But not that I'm back up on the north part of Taiwan, we get to go again!

This past week flew by. So many things happened, and at the same time, nothing happened. I say this past week flew by, but really the whole transfer flew by. Next week is transfers; and, while I don't want to leave my current companion (because he's so awesome), I have a rather big desire to train; not because I want to be a trainer so much as it is because I want to be my friend Alex Welch's trainer; he arrives in Taiwan next week, and I'm so excited.

The main thing of last week was a Zone Meeting in which President Day set a whole bunch of rules and guidelines to "turn the mission around." For about 6 months (so, about since my group of missionaries came to Taiwan), the mission's key indicators (baptisms, new investigators, etc.) has been dropping. Perhaps it's attributed to lack of experience, lack of discipline, or who knows what, but President Day wants to fix it, and especially before he leaves the mission (after one more transfer).

​CAPTION: Traveling to Zone Meeting, on a Taiwanese bus (could they have stuffed any more people on?)

Some new guidelines include the rule of finding for two hours every day, using facebook less, avoiding any waste of time or activity which tends to "put off" or decrease finding, not having bad attitudes to finding and other activities, along with other things. The entire document was three full pages long, of step-by-step things we need to do to be better missionaries. And it's been incredible the change in the mission in just the past week. Things are turning around. And, they're turning around quickly. So we're excited to see what the future holds.

Next transfer is going to be a short transfer; a 5 week instead of a 6 week one, because President Day will be leaving, and he doesn't want the new Mission President to arrive and the next day have to hold a transfer meeting. So, it'll be a little shorter than normal.

The other day, some lady on the street took us to the fanciest restaurant I think I have ever been to in my entire life. We ran into her in front of the library, she self-contacted us (came and talked to us, instead of us initiating the conversation) because I looked "Asian" or Taiwanese, and she'd met with missionaries before, and so we exchanged contact information, and a week later, she invited us to dinner, and we went to this restaurant. Now, food in Taiwan is on average pretty cheap; I feel it is expensive if I spend over 3 dollars (US) on a meal here. This lady spent about $100. And they gave us dish after dish after amazing dish, and it was some of the most amazing food I've ever eaten, and it was so nice of her. After, we started to clear up some of her concerns and misunderstandings about Mormons, such as "Do you worship someone aside from God and Christ? Pretty sure you do..." We figured out eventually that she was referring to Joseph Smith. Previously, when she had met with missionaries, she said they had told her we worship Joseph Smith. Then she said, perhaps it was that when she had asked them that question, they didn't understand, and just nodded their heads anyway. But we hope to help her learn much more about the gospel, now that she doesn't think we're completely weird.

Yesterday was one of my best birthday's ever. That day, I was on exchanges with the Zone Leaders, and he "took me out to lunch" (I don't know how that really translates into English anymore), an awesome all-you-can-eat hot pot. After an awesome District Meeting, where the whole district ate cake, cookies, and ice cream (the cake and cookies my companion and I made; I have never made such a perfect looking cake before, and it tasted good, too! Of course, it was just a cake mix from the local supermarket, but still! It was perfect, and the rest of the food was awesome, too), we went and had some awesome lessons. Then, while we were at the church for another lesson, our Ward Mission Leader showed up with a beautiful chocolate cake, candles, and other small snacks, and we celebrated again; and then that night, right outside of our house (in the plaza), there was a random short fireworks show. So, just a really awesome birthday.

This week, in District Meeting, I presented a training on leadership to the missionaries in my District, and one of the scriptures I shared with them was this, from the New Testament, Matthew 20:28

 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

I love this scripture as it really puts things in perspective; God, the mightiest of all, came down to Earth. Not to be served, but to serve others. He didn't have to do that; after all, he was God. But he lowered himself, to even lower than some men. After all, has not "The Son of Man... descended below them all" (D&C 122:8)?

As we minister, we follow Christ's example of leadership. May we all follow his example, in all things.

Have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mission Letter 5/4/2015

Hello, family and friends!

There were three languages used in church yesterday; our ward has services translated into English, and it's the only ward like that in Taoyuan, so we have a few English speakers in the ward. There is also one guy who is deaf, and thus also is dumb, and so he uses sign language to speak. So we had testimonies in Chinese, one in English, and one in sign language, and someone helped him translate into Chinese, but he signed the whole thing, which was pretty cool.

This week, we had an incredible 4 investigators at church. We were so happy! Two of them were people we'd only ever met on the street, and aside from the lesson we had with them there, had never met with us. And they both came to church. Of the 4, only one stayed for all three hours. He was one that we had met on the street only. 

When we bring investigators to church, we expect them to have an uplifting experience in an environment where they can feel the Spirit. But we're always a little scared bringing people to fast and testimony meeting; you never know who might get up and who knows what crazy thing they might share. So we're always a little hesitant as we sit next to our investigators, hoping that they don't get scared away. The other weeks are fine, because the bishopric chooses people, to speak on a certain topic, so it's not nearly as scary. But anyway.

As it was fast Sunday, he got blasted with about every gospel topic that could be discussed in the 3 hours he was at church; from Temple, to priesthood, to fasting, to endowments, to missionary work, to the responsibilities of a priesthood father, to a whole bunch of other things. Then he went to Gospel Principles, where they explained the original church of Christ, the results of the Great Apostasy, and a (relatively thorough) overview of Buddhism, Daoism, and its differences/relationship with the true gospel. During priesthood meeting, he witnessed an ordination of a recent convert to the Aaronic Priesthood. It was interesting, and I'm glad our investigator didn't get scared off (too badly). We met with him after church, too, and taught Lesson 1, the Restoration. So he has a lot to think about in the coming week or two.

Our very best investigator, Brother Huang, is doing amazing! He's learning so much, and progressing so well. He has awesome questions, and is keeping commitments like reading, praying, and coming to church. He set a baptismal date this week for May 30. We're really excited for him; he's looking for a belief system/religion, and we hope to help him realize that with us, he's found it. He's truly an awesome guy; he has a Mormon friend, and thus has heard about things like the Word of Wisdom; one of his questions to us was if Mormons could own coffee stores, because he wants to open one someday. He's cool.

Sometimes we have lessons, and the member who comes with us will go way to deep into gospel doctrine. This past week, we had a lesson, and we briefly talked about the priesthood, and then our member went into a discussion with our investigator about the different priesthoods, the different offices within the priesthood, how ordination works, what is an apostle, how a man gets chosen to be advanced in the priesthood, and a whole bunch of things that were just way more information than was needed. So, be warned; if you help missionaries go visit people, and they look like they're cringing as you talk, simply the doctrine a little bit. 

Last Monday was incredibly fun; there are two members around here, both single adults but planning on marriage, Sean and Sofia. They are very good to missionaries; and they're English is on a very high level, so it's like being with Americans, almost. And they often take the missionaries to go do stuff on Preparation Day. Last Monday, they took us to a place called Tiger Mountain, and then we went hiking and saw some incredible scenery, some awesome views of the city, and all around just had a ton of fun. Here's the four of us on a tiger:

After the the hike, they took us to Costco. OH MY GOODNESS. Have you heard of the term, "trunky" before? It means a missionary who really wants to go home/is almost going home (and acts like it); it means the missionary's bags are packed, and they just think about home all the time. Man, going to Costco does that to a person. Why? Because it is literally IDENTICAL with Costco's in the US; the inside, the layout, the foods, the samples, and the food court. I saw so many things that I haven't eaten in so long; I walked down aisles basically identical to ones I'd walked before, and so... yeah. Also had pizza for lunch, from the Costco food court. So delicious. They have Hawaiian out here (they don't have pepperoni). It was amazing. Unfortunately, I couldn't buy almost anything there for groceries; everything is in bulk, and while you get tons, it's very expensive on a missionary budget. I did get 12 muffins, though (buy one get one free!).

We helped a family move this week. From the fourth floor of a building, across town, up to the fifth floor. Good thing it was just mostly boxes and not much big furniture. But there was no elevator either; we did get a pretty good conveyor belt system going. Each person took it up one flight of stairs to the next person, and who took it up another flight, and it worked magically. 

Afterwards, they took us to a Pizza Hut buffet. My goodness. That's something I have never seen before in my life. But it was so delicious! And there were so many flavors that I'd never even considered before; they had like, a peas and carrots, a curry pizza, a kim chi pizza, steak pizza, a seafood pizza, a sushi pizza, and then of course, pepperoni and hawaiian. But it was so delicious!

An invite that the mission gave us this week was to take a copy of the Book of Mormon, give it to a member, ask them to write their testimony in the front, and give it to a friend or acquaintance. So we've been doing that with several members this week. Then we get to follow up with them next week.

When you think about it, the Book of Mormon is one of the most precious, thoughtful gifts you could every give someone. Why? Because of what is in it, and the effect it has on people's lives. Think about your own life. The Book of Mormon doubtless has played a big role and has had an incredibly large influence. Think about how it could affect the lives of others!

Remember what it contains. "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" (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). That's a lot!

Everyone has someone they could give a copy of the Book of Mormon to. Whether it is someone you see everyday, like a bus driver, or a co-worker, a friend, or whoever it may be, think of the people who have seen them before and perhaps passed over the chance to give them the Book or invite them to learn about the gospel. Especially in Utah, everyone is under the impression that "everyone is already a Mormon, and if not, they've already been asked 1000 times before." But if everyone has that view, then nobody is ever offered a chance to learn the gospel. Being in a Mormon community does not mean everyone has had the chance. So take a step out of your comfort zone and try.

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

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