Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mission Letter 2/1/2016

Dear family and friends,

This past week has been so amazing! The weather warmed up, but it rained incessantly. Any moment of sunshine was like a gift straight from God to us, and it's those little happy moments that which keep you working at full speed. 

We also started a new transfer this week; transfer 13 of 16 for me. No, neither my companion or I moved, but we have a new face in the apartment. He's been on a mission for getting close to a year, and he's now serving with us in Sanxia. He's super awesome, and super enthusiastic for the week. He just moved up from Yuli, which was my second area on my mission, so we have had much to talk about.

This week we visited the Liao family, pictured below. The aunt and one of the daughters are members of the church, and the rest of the family has kinda been investigators for quite some time. This is the second time my companion and I had the chance to visit with them, and though they've been "investigating" the church for a couple years, it seems they haven't made much progress. But when we've visited with them, we've been clearly teaching the basics of the doctrine, and giving them very specific invites. We also follow up pretty well. And it seems they've been progressing. 

And then, miracle of miracles, this week the whole family (with the exception of the Dad, which had to work) came to church! It was awesome to have the whole family come to church, after encouraging them and helping them do all the basic things. They've come before; a long time ago, I'm not sure when. They felt that when they came to church, no one really guided them, they felt lost, and that church was more of a social event where everybody came to just chat and see friends that they haven't seen for a week. But when they came this week (they were late, they went to get breakfast first), they went to Young Women's first (the whole family, even though only 2 of the girls are that age), then they came to Gospel Principles and learnt about the Creation, and then at Sacrament meeting, we helped prepare them by sharing some scriptures to set the mood, and reviewing at the end of the meeting what could be learnt from church that Sunday. The talks were also all perfect, about how to improve ourselves as people and about how they (the speakers) received a testimony of the gospel. At the end of the meeting, about 4 sisters from the Relief Society (so, about 1/3 of the Relief Society) swarmed the family and chatted and fellow-shipped them.​ So they felt welcome, felt like church was good, had good feelings, etc. It was awesome. They're going to be gone now for two weeks because of Chinese New Year, but hopefully when they're back, we'll pick up right where we left off. 

We met two awesome new investigators this week. We were sitting in a cafeteria style restaurant eating lunch when this old lady (as we call them, Amah's) sat down next to us. After a few minutes, she struck up a conversation with us. "Ooh, you guys are so young! Mormon's, right?" Turns out, she got baptized into another church about 6 years ago, after having come into contact with some Christians while she worked in Africa as a nurse. She'd read the Bible twice before deciding to be baptized, and once after. But then she went "inactive" because of "flaws in church doctrine" and other people in the church who offended her. She felt like she always wanted to come back to Christ, and that God would set that up for her one day. So she describes running into us as "fate." Now she's 70. She asks all the right questions, like, "Why are there so many churches?" and, after teaching about authority, she understands why there should only be one church and why she'd need to be rebaptized. The Book of Mormon she wants to read to completion, but we set a baptismal date with her for 6 weeks away. I feel that she will be baptized, along with her 11 year old son, who she started taking to church with her 6 years ago, and at the time said, "When I grow up, I want to be a missionary/pastor." So, hopefully, we can help him prepare for that now, too. He was also present at the lesson, and we set a baptismal date with him, too. The family is so cool! We love them already.

Other than that, we just have one investigator who we are trying to help him develop real intent. He's an eternal investigator, has been meeting with missionaries for 2 years, comes to Sacrament meeting every Sunday, and even attends the ward choir practice. But he's not wanting to be baptized, because he still "worships" (for lack of a better word) his father and ancestors, etc. He thinks it's all good, it helps reading scriptures and praying, but he doesn't have true faith nor real intent. Any ideas on how to help with this? We've been studying and asking, but we're still trying to figure out the answer.

I hope you all have a wonderful week! Stay safe, stay warm, don't do anything stupid.

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mission Letter 1/25/2016

Dear family and friends,

Can someone please turn the global warming back on? It's been one of the coldest winters in history here in Taiwan. Snow, falling in places it hasn't fallen in over 100 years. Temperatures just barely above freezing. And hundreds of missionaries still outside, stalwartly pressing forward, talking to the few diehards still out on the street. And you know what they say to us? 辛苦你! Which translates roughly to, oh, poor you guys! Working so hard. Out in the cold. And then you know what they say to us? 趕快回家! Go home quickly! That's what I'm doing! Bye bye!

​CAPTION: Not necessarily the best picture of the snow on the mountain. It comes down a little lower than it looks there. Or that's one of the shorter mountains. 

But it's been super fun. I've discovered that in this area, I have had a lot more success knocking on doors than I have ever had in my other areas. So we do a combination of knocking on people's doors and talking to them on the street. But things have been a little deserted these past days. 

We had the opportunity of eating dinner at the restaurant of a potential investigator this past week. One of the members in our ward took us there to meet the boss. And you know how she came to have this acquaintance? Simply by eating at the restaurant previously, and by becoming friends with them. She has a little bit of a reputation of getting to know people, just all the people around her, not matter if it's a neighbor, co-worker, or the boss of where she eats dinner, she becomes their friend, and then, when she feels that the person is ready, she brings the missionaries. She's very upfront and bold, too; as we were eating, she dragged the boss over and was like, "Come here! Come meet these people, my friends, they are missionaries. They are going to share the gospel with you." And thus it started. That truly is the best way of doing missionary work; way more effective then trying to meet people on the street. 

CAPTION: Selfie Sunday, courtesy of Curtis, the investigator taking the selfie. From left to right: Curtis, Elder Bellingham (ZL), Elder Wei (mini-missionary), Elder Ploeg, Elder Falck, Elder Roe (ZL), and Elder Griffin. ​

We're trying to help all of our investigators progress towards baptism. They're all in the beginning stages of the teaching process; Lesson 1, or 2, that kinda area. In total, there are 5 lessons, which sometimes become more (because all of the commandments are in lesson 4, and that usually becomes 3 or so lessons). But, we have many who are willing to try the "experiment," and see if it bring results. They've set a potential baptismal date, with the condition being they feel the truthfulness of the gospel. So we're trying hard to help them. 

Transfers are this week. There will be no meeting. Missionaries will simply go to their new area. I am almost definitely not moving, because we're still in training. But life is going awesome. I love my area. It's the promised land. I feel like every area in Taiwan seems to be the promised land. Super excited to keep working in Sanxia. Have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mission Letter 1/18/2016

Dear family and friends,

This week was quite the adventure. We went from being a tripanionship to being two companionships (we have a member serving a mini-mission for a couple weeks, he showed up on Thursday), it rained for most of the week, and we were very wet. But it was super fun going out and preaching the good word of God to the masses. We're still trying to figure out the best way to do missionary work in this area. Every area has its own challenges, and here it seems to be a couple of things. 1) Everyone we meet thinks the church is too far away (everyone in Taiwan seems to think that if it takes more than 25 minutes, it's like traveling to a foreign country), and 2) There aren't nearly as many people on the streets here as in my last area. So we're trying now to find a balance between walking down streets and knocking on doors. 

We started on Monday with Preparation Day. It was raining so hiking was out of the question. But we were trying to build District Unity by going out and doing an activity together. So I (as the District Leader here) decided we'd go ice skating at this facility I'd been to previously. So we went, and after a 20 minute Metro ride, arrived at the building. It was fenced off, and the inside was being gutted, and probably knocked down. That made me pretty sad. So we went to Costco instead. Tried many samples, American food made my stomach happy, and then we bought muffins for future breakfasts. We also ate dinner there.

​My District, from left: Sister Lu (visa waiting for the Salt Lake Temple Square Mission), Elder Bellingham (Zone Leader), myself, Elder Griffin (half-Taiwanese comp), Elder Falck (half-Taiwanese trainee), Elder Roe (Zone Leader), and Sister Maxwell (Sister Lu's trainer). 

During District Meeting, Elder Roe shared a scripture that truly well describes what it means to have true intent. We so often hear the words, "sincere heart and real intent," and I really like that real intent means "If you get an answer, you will actually go and do it." The background of this scripture is the people of Ammon, considering moving to the land of the Nephites. They're all afraid to go, because they fear the Nephites will destroy them. But Ammon asks them this question, in Alma 27:

 7 And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?

That's real intent. Deciding beforehand, will we go? If we receive the answer, will we go? Are we willing to do? 

This week was a little harder. We had a lot of people set up early in the week, and then cancel later in the week. But we're working hard on building up our area. We whitewashed (which means both the elders coming into the area weren't living there before), so sometimes it feels like starting from scratch. It was fate that as I was trained, thus I trained. Meaning, when I was trained, we whitewashed or opened an area, and now that it's my turn to train, we did the same.

We had an investigator miraculously show up at church. Missionaries had met with her twice before I moved into this area, and since we'd gone to visit her once, but she wasn't exactly welcoming or willing to talk or let us in. She wouldn't set up a time to visit over the phone, so I'd almost given up hope on her. But yesterday she showed up to Sacrament meeting, and after church said, "You can come visit me this Tuesday afternoon." So we set up a time with her this week, and we're super excited to continue helping her develop faith, repent, and prepare to be baptized.

Hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mission Letter 1/11/2016 The Six Month-er

Dear family and friends,

My zone leader, Elder Roe, called me this morning. He went on a mission the same time I did, and we were in the same MTC district. He had some very urgent news, so he called at what is typically a more inopportune time. I answered, and he basically yelled at me over the phone, "Happy one year and six months mark two days ago!" A pleasant reminder that I'm an old man, as we call them on a mission. The sisters who came on missions with us have gone home, and this Saturday marks the beginning of my last six months in Taiwan. It's been a blast, though.

The only three-half-asian tripanionship has been having a ton of fun this past week! We've had a ton of appointments and many dinners with members (which is atypical of the rest of my mission, I've never had too many dinner appointments). It's been awesome meeting so many cool people and also getting to know the ward members. This ward is pretty small; it split a year ago, and it seems like they're still trying to get their footing. All the ward members are pretty close to each other, so sometimes bring people to church includes dragging people apart. But that's fun. 

​CAPTION: The trio at the same bridge you got a picture of last week. I need to repent and take more pictures, but this is the only one from this week that had all three of us in it.

We met with this super cool kid last week, his uncle's family are all members, but he's not. He's here in Taipei studying university, and eats at his uncle's house frequently, and the missionary's also go there on Sunday nights to eat, so that's how he met them, and then he got referred to us. So we've started teaching him, and he's super willing to do all the things we asked him to. He's 18 years old (it's interesting, teaching people the same age we are. In a way, as a missionary, you feel "ageless," like it's a number but it doesn't represent anything. We'll be meeting with him again tonight, so that should be fun. 

We also had zone meeting this past week. There's been some super big changes, worldwide; for one, there is a new them for missionary work, direct from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: what they want us to focus on is to "Teach Repentance and Baptize Converts." Five simple words, specifically chosen and ordered. Missionaries are to focus on helping people truly repent, and be actually prepared for baptism (way too often are people baptized and immediately thereafter stop coming to church). Baptizing converts is focusing on people who have already been converted and baptism is the outward expression of such a commitment, as opposed to the process of being baptized as a formality and then continuing to try to attain conversion. I think it's a really cool sentence, and we've been applying it a lot more in missionary work. 

Another really big change is that from now on, the missions (worldwide) will not hold transfer meetings, but instead, when we're transferring, we'll receive a phone call giving us our new companion, new area, and a phone number, and then we'll simply get on a train or a bus and travel there alone to meet our new companion. So there will be occasions where we won't have a companion. That's going to be super strange feeling. But, they want us to have more time in our areas, less distractions,  more hard work. So that's fun.

Other than that, the week has been about the same as other weeks. We had some LA's come to church. Of the 3 baptismal interviews I've done in the past week, 2 are baptized and one is getting baptized this week. Hopefully our own area will start to see some baptisms here in the near future. 

Life is good! I'm happy, satisfied, enjoying the work. Hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission