Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mission Letter 2/29/2016 Leap Day

Dear Family and Friends,

This week was great. Though there wasn't much that varied from the norm, just being a missionary in itself is awesome. 

​CAPTION; The four of us missionaries that serve together in the Sanxia ward. This was at a National Monument in Taipei during Preparation Day.

The mission has dramatically changed at least one part of my personality: my outgoing-ness and willingness to talk to strangers. That has been one of the best things I think, for myself, to actually open up and be willing to talk to strangers, and more willing to talk to friends. Before, I did not dare open my mouth to say anything to most people, and I would avoid looking at  people, and talking to strangers, or being friendly if someone chose to talk to me.

But now, I've been here for over a year and a half. And the change is almost frightening. I'm ready to talk to literally everyone, almost regardless of where they are or what they're doing. And not just talk to them, but talk about the gospel. And that's an amazing privilege.

I remember back to before I was a missionary. Anything which involved putting myself "out there" or talking to any non-member about the gospel was truly frightening. Giving a pamphlet or church material to anyone at school seemed like being asked to go to the Lamanites (who wanted to kill you) to preach. And, especially as missionaries, we're always trying to help members be better missionaries themselves. And, while it's very natural for us missionaries to talk to any random person about the gospel, we forget what it feels like to be a member, comfortable in the church but timid about sharing. And we're like, "Come on, this isn't so hard! Just invite them and us to dinner," or, "Just give them this tract," or, "Give us a referral." But it's scary! Sometimes sharing is hard.

But once we have our own testimony in place, and we understand why the gospel is so important to us, then we have a greater motivation to share it with all the people we know. Once we realize the blessings of the gospel in our own lives, then we can be even more confident in God and in sharing the gospel with others. Alma taught,

Alma 5:26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

If you cannot feel so now, do what you need to to get that feeling back! Do an experiment. Close your eyes and try to imagine what your life would be like right now, if you had never come into contact or been a member of the church. What are the differences? Especially for youth, the difference is enormous. As we consciously take the time to ponder our blessings and the difference that the gospel has made for us, we can start to increase our motivation to help other people (family, friends, neighbors) enjoy those blessings.

These are just some things I've been reflecting upon recently. I don't have much more to write about today. I hope you have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mission Letter 2/22/2016 2 Years Ago...

Dear family and friends,

This morning, I was reporting with my Zone Leaders on the efforts of my companionship and my district this past week. They've changed accountability from Sunday nights (where we'd be super rushed to do it in about 50 minutes) to Monday mornings (where we have a 3 hour time slot, so naturally it just takes longer). It took over an hour and a half today to report on the progress of five companionships. But it was super good, and I am a big fan of my zone leaders. One of them is Elder Roe, who has been out on the mission as long as I have; in fact, we were in the same district in the MTC.

To set the tone for accountability, he told me what he was thinking about recently. Two years ago (I believe this week), he received a letter; a big white envelope, which contained a message that would change the next two years of his life (his mission call). Then he recounted how that letter would change his future, decided where he would go, affect future memories and opportunities, etc. 

I would add, being here two years later, and looking back on that time (because I, too, got my call near the end of February), and seeing how 1) inspired the call was, and 2) the effect that it and the ensuing mission has had on me and my life, my way of doing things, and my personality. All have been affected for the better. 

This week, Guo Amah came to church again (she's our 70 year old investigator). She has many life experiences and stories that she loves to share with us (like any grandmother, I guess). Her favorite one is how she once had cancer but beat it. She attributes it to God that she was "miraculously healed." And it was quite miraculous; she had a tumor that appeared in her head at one point, but after some point, it all just vanished. Now, she's a happy, healthy grandmother who is very willingly learning more about the gospel. She talks to everyone in the ward, and everyone talks back to her. Sometimes it feels like the ward isn't terribly good at welcoming new faces. But if the new face is warm and willing to talk to the ward, then everything goes super smoothly. She's already been taught (and is keeping) the Word of Wisdom. She had no problems with it, not even tea. We're super excited for her and her preparations for baptism. Her goal is March 12 (which, unfortunately, is 4 days after transfers, and one of us will almost definitely be leaving). The ward loves her, too.

​CAPTION: This week, we rode out to the middle of nowhere (not too far, because in Taiwan it really doesn't take too long to get to the middle of nowhere), decided there were no people there, took a picture and headed back.

Except that while we were out there, we met this super awesome 15 year old kid, shared about the Atonement, set a baptismal date, and another time. When we went back, we had about a 20 minute lesson, he was super receptive, asked extremely good questions, and was super sincere, but was rudely interrupted by his mother who would not shake our hands, told us that they were Buddhist and didn't need this, and dragged the kid inside. Our feelings is that he is truly ready for the gospel, and baptism, but now there are just some small obstacles in the way.

This week I held the baptismal interview (and attended the baptism) for one of the Zone Leader's investigators: Brother Lee. He is truly one of the most humble people I've ever met, and very down to earth. As I was asking him the questions, he was like, "I've already made my decision; if I didn't want to join this church or didn't feel ready, I wouldn't be here; I would have already run out the door by now." He was also influenced in his decision by the members of the ward; "they're all so friendly, they're all brothers and sisters." We can be a very great example for other people. Even for members or less active members; make sure everyone feels included! Always! The gospel teaches us to love others and to fellowship others. It always makes me a little upset when I see a ward where everyone is kind of split up into their friend groups. 

This past week was temple day. The Taiwan Taipei Temple is very pretty, but also pretty small. The Celestial Room is elaborate, but due to space, also isn't large. However, the doors are extremely tall; narrow, but tall. So narrow, one person can walk through them at a time (like a typical door, right?)but so tall, about 4x taller than a a person like me. And it made me think as I was sitting there, "...strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (3 Nephi 14:14). I thought, "As long as [I] keep the commandments, I (and everyone else) have God's promised blessings, for life and for eternity, and we need not fear anything, because in the end, nothing else matters." So, that's what I learned this past week, in the Temple.

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mission Letter 2/17/2016 Filled to the Brim

Dear family and friends,

This past week was Chinese New Year. Here's a list of things that comprises Chinese New Year:
1. Families are all together, playing games, eating much food, and often (especially at nights), drinking. 
2. Small (and I emphasize the word, "small") fireworks are always going off, at the most random times of the day, and sometimes the most random times of the night.
3. If it's not fireworks, it's firecrackers, which I don't find logical; they don't even look cool, they just make a ton of noise. I think I heard one that I swear lasted a full minute.
4. The greater population of Taiwan immigrates to the southern half of the island for the week, because that's where their parents all live and the tradition is to go back to your parents (and take your whole family with you).
5. FOOD. All week long. Every meal we were fed; lunches and dinners. We had all sort of things, from 5 course steak buffet's to Pizza Hut to members home cooked dinners to McDonald's.

In Sanxia, it was pretty good because not everybody left. There were many people who were either tourists that came to Sanxia, or who were originally from Sanxia and just stayed here. But a good majority of people were drunk at nights, and so they were more willing to talk to us than usual, but less willing to meet again with us than usual. Some people would straight up tell us, "I'm drunk, so don't bother me right now."

But we have this investigator that we were working with from before Guonian (Chinese New Year). Her name is Sister Guo, and she is an Amah, or rather, a really old lady (Amah basically means Grandma in Chinese). She was a nurse, worked abroad in three different countries before (all in Africa), retired a little early to come back to Taiwan and look after her grandson. She's about 70 now, and about 6 years ago, joined another church after asking someone about Christianity,and then reading the whole Bible twice. Prior to that, she was an atheist, but eventually believed in God. She's been a little less active in that church for a while though, because of some offense and some differences in doctrine she felt were wrong, and now is meeting with us!

She came to church last week, and was asked to introduce herself. She literally talked for 15 minutes about how she came to know of the church, miracles she's seen before in her life, and etc. I'm almost positive she will be baptized, and she's more outgoing in meeting new people than most members in the ward are. So that's super cool. We're really excited for her. And to think we met her during lunch one day, when she came and sat next to us herself!

We have also been meeting with this part member family. Yesterday they even gave us dinner. Afterward, we shared the first lesson, "The Restoration." We're not doing them in order right now; last time we shared the second lesson, "The Plan of Salvation." They've known missionaries for two years, but they said something interesting yesterday; "The previous missionaries have never shared so much or such long lessons with us." "What did they do before?" I asked. And they told us, they'd come, eat dinner with the family (because they were always so willing to feed the missionaries), and then they'd share like a scripture or two and be on their way. I was incredulous. While I'm grateful the family has had 2 years of scriptural preparation, I am amazed no one has ever tried to share the lessons and help them be baptized before. They're very receptive now, they've even been praying as a family (with the exception of the father), and we're hoping to help them continue to progress, come to church, and read scriptures. They're so awesome!

Yesterday I held a district meeting. We talked about the term "full-time missionaries," and what that means. What I see it as is: as full time missionaries, we are missionaries 24/7, there is no "personal time." There is time to rest, to do all those other things, but for two years or 18 months, all the time is the Lord's. So, we have to 1) use our time effectively, and 2) always be an example, because at all times of the day, people are viewing us as the representatives of the church, so we have to be good for neighbors, for people on the street, and even for our companion or other missionaries. I made this card as a reminder for each of the missionaries in my district:

Another elder took this picture of me in the apartment during studies. I was yawning, and didn't know he was taking a photo (he did it from around a corner), but I used it to emphasize that we are always the same person, even if we don't know other people are watching us. 

Today is Temple day. We get to go this afternoon, and then it's a really short week until the next Preparation Day. Hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mission Letter 2/8/2016 過年

Dear family and friends,

First of all, I must wish you:

 新 年 快 樂 

"Xin Nian Kuai Le," or Happy New Year! It is currently that time of year ("GuoNian") where we turn to our inner Chinese selves and use the moon to reckon the years and decide that now is actually the New Year. Anyway, thanks to years upon years of Chinese Tradition, this is now the biggest holiday that the Chinese ever celebrate. It consists of a full week off of work (I don't think there is any other time during the year that they get close to that many days off in a row), and crowded traffic systems as everyone scrambles to "go home," or go back to where they grew up/where their parents live. Then they eat good food for a week, enjoy each other's company, and have a ball in general.

Last week was full of miracles. During the weekend, as Guonian was beginning, we shifted our focus to finding some Less Active members. Guonian has a reputation of being the worst time of year for missionary work because all investigators, members, and everyone leaves Taipei and heads south (out of our mission) back to where they grew up. So the place empties out. But so far (it's only the second day now) I haven't felt that it's that bad. In fact, because it was a vacation, everyone was at home, all the LA's that we went to visit were home and with their families, and we got an incredible amount of work done. So it's been a blessing; hard to keep in contact with investigators, but finding way more families at home.

We had exchanges with the Zone Leaders this past week. On the mission, one of the lessons I've learned is this: remember you are always an example to someone else. I remember when I first came on the mission, I looked up to Zone Leaders so much. They were like my idols. They were the most awesome missionaries, and look at them! They're so perfect. I will do anything they tell me to. Then, one day, all of a sudden, I was the Zone Leader. And I felt super ordinary, under qualified, and kinda like (as the Chinese saying goes) a three-legged cat doing kung fu. But then I became a regular missionary again, once again looking up to the Zone Leaders. And, not to brag, but I know that just by nature of the position, people were looking at me like I look at my leaders. So, just knowing that everything we do has an influence on other people, it is important to always be uplifting, helping, caring, and a good example.

We had two dinners yesterday. It was the worst. I am so full. I'm going to die. We have a dinner appointment for every lunch and dinner this week. Many of them will be buffets. And if I'm at a buffet, I have no self control, because I got eat my money's worth, right? Or rather, the member's money's worth. We'll see how I am at the end of this week.

So there is this really nice member in our ward. The other day we saw him at a McDonald's, helping another missionary companionship attend a lesson. We were there picking up some stuff from them, and then leaving. About an hour later, this member, Brother Shan, calls us and tells us to meet him at a certain corner in 20 minutes. So we show up, and he takes us to a shoe store, and tells me to start looking for shoes. I told him I didn't need shoes, but he insisted, and said that my shoes were falling apart, and that it was "perfect timing" because I was going home soon and would take the ones he gave me home. So he bought me new shoes. Don't worry Mom and Dad, I wrote him a nice long card and gave it to him in a red envelope.

It's been a great week. I love my mission. It's going so fast that now it's scary. I love you all. Have a safe and wonderful week. 

Elder Sequoia Ploeg

Taiwan Taipei Mission