Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mission Letter 11/30/2015

Dear family and friends,

This week was super busy, and had a wide variety of activities that took up a lot of our time. 

On Monday, it was P-Day. We had choir practice. Our second to last practice before our first performance. The time is coming. So is the stress.

On Tuesday, Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve visited. The entire mission came to the Mission Headquarters, and we all sat in the chapel to listen to his training. We filled the entire chapel (but didn't spill into the cultural hall). No one sings as loudly or as powerfully as a group of 200 missionaries, shoulder to shoulder in a chapel. I was asked to play the organ for the day, which was also really fun for me. The choir performed, the training was super good.

One of the things that I learned most from the training was about how to help people keep commitments. That's one of the most important things in missionary work, is commitments. Regardless of whether we're working with less actives, investigators, or members, almost every lesson, you will hear the word, "Invite." This word's meaning completely changed for me here on the mission. In every interaction, we invite people to act. Unless people act, they won't change. One privilege we have as missionaries is to promise blessings for action. That's truly amazing; we can promise people that as they obey certain commitments or commandments, things in their life will change, and we can promise specific blessings. 

Wednesday we went on exchanges with the Assistants. They did this strange thing where we both stayed the night at their area. Our areas almost border each other, so going back to our area to do missionary work during the day isn't too hard; nevertheless, we spent most of the time in their area. Which was ok; we got a pizza lunch buffet from that. Members in Taiwan are super nice; they were eating lunch, and any companionship they saw walking by outside was invited in (when you're around the temple, that's quite a few companionships). 

Thursday wasn't terribly special. 

Friday was Mission Leadership Council. There's some really cool stuff that they taught us about obedience, faith, and also just finding people to teach. They related missionary work to fishing. And when we go finding, we go fishing, but not gutting, scaling, cooking, and selling. Just finding. When we're teaching on the street, we're not trying to convert them, just trying to help them have a second chance to meet with us someday, and learn more. The mission thing here is that in the first lesson, we invite to baptism. So, on the street, the main topic of the conversation is baptism, and how it will change their life. The vision is that every person that we have a conversation with on the street is invited to baptism (and, at very best, sets a date). 

Saturday was a day full of finding. What we did was put into practice everything that we learnt about yesterday. We actually had a pretty successful finding day, but many of the people we met are also referrals to give away.

Sunday was awesome. We had an investigator family that we're currently working with come to church. It was also the Primary program, which was fun. It always is. The children were cute, the investigators enjoyed it, etc. We're so excited for this one family. The goal for them is to be baptized on Christmas, so now we're just trying to meet with them often enough to get all the lessons finished.

Everything is going well. It's incredible that it's almost Christmas time. Feels a little surreal. This coming week, our choir performances start. Music is an incredible way to meet new people and bring the Spirit. So excited!

Hope you have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mission Letter 11/23/2015

Dear family and friends,

This week has been amazing! In addition to finding tons of people.

The choir is coming along well. Regardless of the fact that we had 3 practices before our first performance (which is tomorrow for Elder Stevenson, the new Apostle), it's going well! And starting next Friday and Saturday, and lasting through the rest of December, we'll have performances every weekend throughout all of Taipei. It should be a blast.

This week was really busy. We had so many exchanges with other missionary companionships. We had an exchange with the Xizhi, Sanchong, and Songshan missionaries. Two of those were on consecutive days, with only a 30 minute "switching" time in between. For each of those exchanges, my companion left the area, and I stayed. So, that was fun, staying in the area and running it all week long, and my companion was on like, a vacation touring various cities. But that's okay; last time we had such a busy week, I was the one who got to leave the area every time.

This week, we did not have many lessons set up. So, we had a lot of finding time. It's incredible, living and proselyting in the middle of the city, how many people we meet that don't actually live in our area. I don't know if I've ever given out so many referrals before. But we meet some super cool people, too.

Last week, we ran into this 18 year old kid who is a student at the National Taiwan University, the best school in Taiwan. He is also doing an internship on the side. So, he's incredibly smart, and usually everyone in Taiwan is incredibly busy. But the most amazing thing was that he was first off, interested in learning about the gospel. He said he was looking for a religion, that his mother was Christian, but he was still trying out others. He said he had time Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, in addition to the weekend, to meet. So, super rare, and super cool.

We have an investigator, his name is Brother Huang. He is the friend of a member, and he has been Christian in another church for 3 years. He still retains some of his Buddhist ideas though. And his biggest problem is smoking. He's very willing to be baptized again into our church (though we can never get through a full discussion with him, he talks so much), but the only obstacle is the cigarettes. He has no self confidence, etc. He wants 5 months to prepare. So we set a goal for April 6, 2016. But this week, he went two days without smoking, and he's not sure how, either. It's amazing! He normally smokes over 10 per day, but now he's seeing some success. Hopefully we'll be able to move his baptismal date up a bit.

The family that we're working with came to church again this week. They're super awesome! But super busy, that we never have time to meet with them, they only come to church. But next week is the Primary program, and hopefully their 11 year old daughter will be participating in the performance! That'll be super good for both her, and the family (parents) to watch.

Not much else happened this week. 

Scripture of the Week: 2 Nephi 2:27

 27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are 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.

Hope you have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mission Letter 11/16/2015

Dear family and friends,

We had our first choir rehearsal for the Missionary Christmas Choir. Our first performance is in three weeks, which will have given us in total four times where we met together to practice. But that's okay; I believe in simplicity, as long as it sounds good. So, all the songs we are performing are pretty simple, as long as we can learn those, we'll be good.

The Christmas choir is going to be such an awesome missionary opportunity. We already have about 8 or so events, whether those be wards inviting us to perform in their chapels, or outside events (we're scheduled to attend a Lion's Club event called, "Discovering Families," where there should be over 2000 people attending. We'll perform 4 15-minute segments over a 3 hour period, and in between, we'll go contacting all the families in attendance. It's going to be great!

We taught English Class this week. It's been a long time. Last transfer, they took out one group of missionaries from this area or this English unit, so we're finally needed again. But it was a nice respite (racking your brain every week for a new way to teach English can cause quite the headache, because you feel bad if you do thing they have done before). When we start teaching next week, it will also probably be the Kids class, which basically means minimal preparation and maximum singing in class. Any ideas on how to teach small children English?

We have a member of the Quorum of the Twelve coming in two weeks. Elder Stevenson, whose son is serving in the Taiwan Taizhong Mission, will also do a mission tour and training here in Taipei, since he's going to be here. So, we're looking forward to seeing him! The entire mission will be coming together (at once) for this activity. That's is literally something I have NEVER seen before, the entire mission in one place. Closest I've ever seen was half the mission in one place.

There is this foreigner who has been in Taiwan practicing his Chinese. He's been here for a month, and has lots of time, so he has offered to go with us to many of our lessons. Which is pretty cool. He also attends church with us afterwards in Chinese, just to kind of practice listening. His Chinese is really good, but his speaking is a little halting. But it's been lots of fun chatting with him and meeting with him, too. It will be fun using Chinese after the mission. 

This week we met with this investigator (a Christian of three years or so) who is telling us how the Plan of Salvation really ought to be. When my companion and I teach the plan of salvation, we have these little cards with pictures (like Premortal life, the Spirit World, etc.) that we've been using. When we placed them down on the table, we asked him to try putting them in order. After his attempt, we made a few minor corrections and began to explain each. At which point he put them back in his original order (which included placing the "Judgment" card over the "Life on Earth" spot, explaining that the reason things happened to us was because we were being judged. Some people also get a second chance, according to him, being born again and repeating the process until they do what they were supposed to do). When he finished, we were out of time (he talks a  lot) and we said we'd discuss this lesson more next time. To which he responded, "You don't need to waste your time teaching me this, I already understand it all." We'll keep working with him, if he's willing to learn some more. He's a really nice guy, and a member referral. He's really willing to come to church and everything (he likes the feeling of our church better). We'll see how he does.

We have this family who came to church. They are super cool! I think I talked about them last week. They have an 11 year old daughter. We met with them before church and shared the message of the Restoration, and a little bit about church history. We gave them a copy of the Book of Mormon, and they seem to perfectly understand its purpose, and are willing to read it. They're doing so well! Their daughter should be participating in the Primary program next week during Sacrament Meeting! We currently have their baptismal date goal scheduled for Christmas. That would be the best present of all.

Scripture of the Day: Jeremiah 29
 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
 12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
 13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
 14 And I will be found of you, saith the Lord...

I read a Liahona article a few weeks ago which talked of he Lord "being found of us." It says, the Lord is not trying to hide. Kind of like parents playing hide and seek with children, they hide in places where they'll be found. The Lord wants us to find him, so we must diligently seek him out.

Have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mission Letter 11/9/2015

Dear family and friends,

This past week has been pretty glorious! Compared to last week, it felt like we had way more time (simply because we had way fewer appointments), but it seems like our finding this week was really pretty poor. My companion and I have been trying to figure out, what's missing in the way we approach people? Or, how to help people have more of a desire to talk to us? We're trying to focus on getting some new investigators. But we do have some pretty good people right now; including the family which I talked about last week. They came to church yesterday! It was awesome! We had 5 investigators come to church yesterday. Hopefully we can keep them coming and help all of them prepare to be baptized.

On Friday night, as we were outside on the street contacting, we saw a white guy walk past us, and we were like, "Hello!" And he replied, "Hi, Elders." So we were like, he must be Mormon. Turns out, he was! Here in Taiwan for a business trip, he comes from a place just south of Provo. I forgot what it was called (geography is not my strong point). He had barely arrived in Taiwan that day, and he's only here for a couple days before flying off to another Asian country. I think that must be a pretty cool thing, wherever you go in the world, you can run into missionaries.

The really funny part is that we ran into him again the following night, at McDonald's (we were there for a lesson, he was there for dinner). So we chatted with him briefly before going home for the night, swapped phone numbers, and left him directions to get to the church and the time of the English services. It was pretty cool.

We literally had so many appointments cancel on us on Saturday. We were originally supposed to be very busy throughout the day. We had 6 appointments, and then lunch and dinner, taking most of our time up that day. But, about two hours before each appointment, without fail 5 of the 6 called to cancel. The one that we did meet with, we did not set up ourselves (our ward mission leader set it up for us and then told us to just attend and teach something). After they had all cancelled, we took a few minutes to call some people, and set one person up for thirty minutes later. When we got there, after 10 minutes, he still hadn't shown up. And he never did.

President asked me to set up the Missionary Christmas Choir. So, in all my spare time and mealtimes I've been writing musical arrangements of Christmas songs. We've been finding music, and my head has just been filled with notes flying here and there. Our first practice is today (in about 20 minutes) and we'll see how many people show up (and actually have musical ability). I can't wait to see if the music I wrote in my head actually sounds the same coming out of people's mouths.

Transfers were this week. My companion and I are still together, no changes there. Our zone shrunk a little bit as some areas were closed. Next transfer, though, tons of people are going home, so the mission is going to shrink some. If things are normal, I'll probably move, too, because I've now been here for 4 transfers. I've loved this area since I've been here, and the ward has been so awesome to us, too. I'll be sad to go. But that's something to think about 6 weeks from now.

Aside from lots of biking around, not a ton happened this week. And because I have choir practice in about 10 minutes, this email is just a tad shorter.

I hope you guys all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mission Letter 11/2/2015

Dear family and friends,

Trick or treat! Apparently it was Halloween last what, Saturday? We didn't even realize here until the next day. 

We saw some amazing miracles this past week. The Lord has poured out so many blessings on us this past (shortened) week, and time has truly been flying! This week is already transfers again! It's amazing sometimes, just how satisfying and happy missionary work can be. (I've also discovered, a lot of the time it's just a conscious decision, and even if I want to be angry or pity myself, I try to "turn off" that part of my thinking and focus on whatever task is at hand instead.)

We were booked to the brim this past week. Since emailing last Wednesday, I believe we had about 5 hours total to go finding; 5 hours where we didn't have any appointments or meetings or meals. That is very uncommon. This past week, we were truly busy. Throughout the week, we met with 10 different investigators (or investigator families) and 10 different Recent Converts or Less Actives. We also had a few more lessons outside of that, simply from finding people on the street.

One of the biggest miracles of the week was that we found a family. They're so amazing! In fact, it was them who proactively contacted us. It was apparently someone that we met on the street around two months ago, who had set up with us, and then cancelled last minute. Since that happens to us so much in Taiwan, we didn't really think twice about it, nor did we pursue contacting her again. But last week, she texted me saying that "so and so has come out of the hospital, and now I have time to meet with you guys, I don't know when you are available?" She didn't sign her name, and it wasn't saved in the phone, so we didn't even know that piece of information. But we set up a time via text to meet with her at the chapel. 

The day rolls around, and about 20 minutes before the appointment, she calls saying she's arrived. It was a good thing we'd already gotten out of a lesson at the chapel about 3 minutes beforehand. We cross over to where she was and discover, wow! She brought her husband and 11-year-old daughter, too! That day we decided to do a temple tour, and it was an amazing lesson. We helped her and her family understand the important role of Jesus Christ, baptism, the Atonement, and then we set a baptismal goal date with the family: Christmas. We really hope to help the whole family get baptized at the same time.

The Mom of the family actually has a member friend, who lives about 2 hours away from here in Taipei. Over 10 years ago, this friend invited our new investigator to come to church, and she did a couple times. But then she got busy and stopped. But now, she feels like she wants her daughter to find some new friends, have the environment of the church around her, and be happier in life, so the family decided to come investigate the church. It's quite the miracle! 

At the chapel here, because it's right next to the temple, the mission takes advantage of using it as a finding tool. Since there is no visitor's center, the mission tries to set up certain areas for similar uses or purposes. For example, everyday there is a set of sister missionaries at the church, giving "temple tours." Of course, that's just a tour of the church while looking at the temple through the window, and looking at pictures of Christ and hearing about the gospel. My companion and I, living just about the closest to the church, use the temple tours all the time to teach lessons to both our investigators and less actives. We've probably attended more temple tours than any other companionship in the mission.

Recently, since the temple sisters know we've seen more tours than just about anyone else, they've started asking us to lead the tours when we bring our investigators. It's pretty fun. There are various hallways themed to different parts of the gospel. There's the Jesus Christ hallway, which has pictures ordered chronologically, outlining His birth, His growing up, His mortal ministry, His Atonement, the Second Coming, and baptism. Then you have the Restored Gospel hallway, which outlines prophets, the organization of Christ's church, the Joseph Smith story, and The Church Today. You have the Book of Mormon hallway, with pictures illustrating various Book of Mormon stories. You have the hallway adjacent to the temple, with a row of windows from which you can look at the temple. So even though there is no fancy decoration or interactive displays, you can get quite a bit out of a temple tour, especially with the Spirit. 

Every time I get to do a baptismal interview, it's a rather amazing experience. I get to see first hand a change in people; in the way they conduct their lives, in their commitment to follow God, and in their desire to learn more about the gospel. Yesterday I had the privilege of interviewing a baptismal candidate. She passed! She'll be baptized on Tuesday. There's just something thrilling about people being baptized, even if they're not your investigator. But, sometimes even better than baptisms, is going to the temple.

I hope you all have a wonderful week. Remember to be happy, and take time each day to think about all the blessing the Lord has given us. If you're upset, just take a moment to look around you, perhaps at a tree, a mountain, or the sky, and then think of how wondrous and awesome that object is; how magnificent, complex, and miraculous it is. The grand majesty of a mountain, or perhaps the scientific wonder of the sun. It's all very cool.

Have a good week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission