Monday, January 28, 2013

A late white Christmas

On Tuesday night we got a text from Emily saying that her mom was feeling a bit better, and that she wanted to come to eikaiwa (English class) the next evening. We were thrilled and told her to come early so we could talk. She came about an hour before. We had a good talk and ended up teaching about tithing (which she took without a blink) and then about her baptism. This was the day her interview was actually supposed to be, but had been cancelled in relation to her moms accident. We told her, however, that she could still be baptized on Sunday if she felt she was ready. She did. We called Elder Miura and shared the happy news and begged him to come down to Kofu for her interview.

Emily is a very special spirit. We don't really feel like she's needed us much at all, but we're so grateful to be with her during this monumental point in her life. Her baptism was held right after church on Sunday, and a good chunk of the ward was able to attend. The service ran smoothly and, although she was nervous, her fears were calmed by our sweet bishop and the Spirit. She requested to be baptized by Bishop Kumamoto. He is our big teddy-bear ward daddy. He's the type who's to be found in the church halls carrying and chasing down children during meetings. He helped us with Emily from the beginning and even came to some of her lessons, and they quickly became good friends. Emily's closing testimony was confident and accompanied by a powerful spirit. After the service everyone lined up to say congratulations and to give her more gifts then she could even fit on her bike. We are so proud of our Emily! Her baptism is in answer to many prayers and the beautiful people of Kofu ward. They've given so much to missionary work and the Lord is blessing them. We walked back to our apartment from the church yesterday, and I was marveling at the miracle of baptism and Emily and how the Lord has seen fit to bless us her in Kofu.  

Can I just say, I love being in this middle bit of my mission! I love being on transfer 7. Every transfer brings its own changes and challenges, and during this one I've felt something in my mind open up...like a blue sky, opening a window, throwing open curtains...and I've found myself on the other side of the hill from being a follower and a junior, to walking in my own two shoes. Released from the pressures of other's expectations and demands, and let free into the realm of being the missionary I am day to day because of my choices and my relationship with God. We're far out here with our little land of Kofu all to ourselves, doing the best we can to serve not because someones looking over our shoulder, but because we want to be here giving our best to the Lord. In many ways the responsibility has heightened, and sometimes I feel that since we are so free to do our thing here, that we report strait to the angels watching over us each day. It's been a great learning experience. The Lord is close to us here. And though I can hardly believe the shortcomings and flaws that beset me daily, His grace comes to meet me when I reach towards heaven.

My heart is full this week. I'd like to share some of the day-to-day miracles we have been seeing. On Thursday, despite our efforts, we were faced with an intimidating 'white day'. No appointments. We prayed and laid out the day the best we could, then hit the road. We decided first to go visit two less active members. Neither were home so we left them chocolate and little message cards. We then went housing in the surrounding area. We felt drawn to a blue apartment building down a small road. Nothing remarkable happened at that one, but we continued to it's neighboring building. The first person we found was a boy from Argentina. He spoke Japanese well enough to tell us about how he prays every day and, although his mom wasn't home at the time, he thought they might like to come to the Spanish Sunday school class on Sundays. Sister Soderborg just happened to have a copy of a pamphlet in Spanish. We continued on. In the very top apartment, a cute mom opened the door, a bouncing three-year-old at her side. She listened for a minute, trying to keep her little one from darting out the door, when suddenly her husband appeared and said something, motioning towards us. At first we took this as bad news as a lot of the time, if the dad comes out, it means it's over. Turns out they were in the middle of their daughter's birthday party. He came out and listened to us politely, saying that he has seen our church before, but, what we are doing must sure be hard in Japan because most people have closed hearts to Christianity. We stated simply that we believe in families that last forever, and that we are here to share that with whoever will listen. He thought about that, and then surprised us by asking us to please come back later. They are a super awesome little family, and we are so excited to start teaching them. Right after that we got a call from a busy 20 year old PI who said she had time right then to meet us at the eki. We rushed back and were able to eat lunch with her. That night we also had Junpei agree to give us ten minutes on skype so that we could read the Book of Mormon together. Boom. It was a miracle day. Junpei also has a baptismal date for next month.

I can't say every white day is filled with obvious miracles. But the Lord truly blesses us when we go out in diligence and do our best. Sometimes the blessings don't come that day. Sometimes they don't come that week. But they always come. I feel like many of the struggles that overwhelmed me throughout the first months of my mission, are being met with God's mercy now as he leads special people into my life, and also as he helps me now grow into something more then I could have without being first cut down a little. Ok, cut down a lot...but I realize that as I am cut and cast down into a broken world with weakness, I can "cast all [my] cares upon him, for he careth for [me]" (1 Peter 5:7) Though it's a hard lesson to learn and even a harder one to teach, this life wasn't meant to be easy. But it is worth it. Just as the hairs of our head are numbered, I believe the tears of our heart, too, are numbered. And though really sometimes I feel that I can't overcome myself, he reminds me, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) And I testify that he has.

So in gratitude for the many prayers and the big love I feel from you each day of my life, I end for now. Thank you for teaching me to trust God. :) Your examples and never failing faith have made the difference for me. I love you.
 

Monday, January 21, 2013

After the trial of your faith

Got a bit chilly here in Kofu. But definitely better then Utah by the sounds of it! Except for that first day of trying to ride bikes in the snow, it hasn't gotten in our way too much. I love the change of seasons. And Kofu is the perfect place to stay cozy for the winter. We've actually been blessed to have most of our appointments and things at the church recently, which is across the street.

Emily, herself, continues to amaze us with her big faith and determination. What has begun to hinder her now is external circumstances. Last week, thanks to icy roads, Emily's mother got in a car accident. She broke her collar bone and several ribs. She was pretty shaken up and now can't be left home alone. Because of this her mom asked her not to go to church, and to postpone her baptism. We are now only communicating with her through phone and email as she hasn't been able to come to the church since last Tuesday. Please pray for Emily! It seems that before her baptism there are some trials of faith to forge though. We know she can do it.

On a happier note- we met another Emily this week! She also is Nihonjin, and very good at English. She and our other Emily are only two years apart in age. How funny is that?? I've never even met an Emily in Japan until coming here, and now within three weeks we've got two of them! This second Emily, Emily Iide, came to us through one of our members, Crystal. Crystal is Chinese and a pro at introducing her friends to the church. Emily Iide was taking English lessons from her and began to show interest in meeting the American missionaries Crystal told her about. Crystal brought us to the church last night and we talked over mugi-cha and sugar bread cakes. We told her about the Book of Mormon. She told us about how she is a movie maker and is going to France next month to try and show her movie and talent to a famous director. We are meeting her again for lunch this week.

This weekend was stake conference. I was actually a bone head and left my violin in Kofu when I left Saturday morning, but luckily there was a member with one who was able to bring it on Sunday before the session. The choir and I did a gorgeous version of 'I Need Thee Every Hour'. God really worked some magic for me. It went perfectly. It was special being back with my Machida choir. They are so good to me. Miyuki Shimai was able to come to one of the sessions, and brought me this big Tupperware full of food. OH and Sister Budge spoke!! In Japanese. She had someone translate her talk beforehand and then wrote it out so she could give it herself.  Afterwards everyone told President Budge that her Japanese sounded better then his! Haha. President Budge was fun to watch too. He's this big boisterous red-headed American and definitely gets noticed when he's at the pulpit!

We have a couple in our ward who are Brazilian and Japanese and run this big Brazilian restaurant that feeds the missionaries for free. It was HEAVEN. I haven't had such good meat, and grilled pineapple, for a while. It tasted better then Tucanos! Speaking of food, some strange things have happened to me in Japan...one being, I now LOVE sweet potatoes!

In closing....I would like everyone in America to know...that heated toilets DEFINITELY need to come to the states!
 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Japan believes in SNOW

Apparently Japan DOES believe in snow! I haven't seen a speck of snow until this morning, and now there is almost a foot on the ground outside! I couldn't be happier.

This might be a bit short this week, forgive me, but we had the biggest miracle walk into our church last week. Remember Emily? Yeah. She is so beautiful. We had our first official lesson with her last Tuesday, and talked to her about baptism. She had told everyone she wanted to be baptized so we decided to lay everything on the table and ask her when she wanted to be baptized. We felt it was right to let her choose. We'd been surprised to find her Book of Mormon marked like crazy all the way up to second Nephi (at this point she'd only had the Book of Mormon for two days). Anyway although she had tons of questions (good questions) she ate up everything and just had this glow about her. We talked to her about baptism and told her everything she would have to do beforehand (meet with us 4-5 more times, learn the commandments, come to church every week, etc.) and then asked her when she wanted to be baptized. After thinking for a few moments she said, 'kon shu no nichiyoubi wa do desu ka?' 'how about this Sunday?

Because we couldn't finish all the lessons that fast and next week is stake conference, her baptism is scheduled for the 27th.

She is the most prepared person I have ever met. We just adore her. We have no idea why the Lord has blessed us with such a beautiful investigator but we are so grateful for this chance.

Daddy, I've been listening to lots of Christmas music and it reminds me of you and your passion for music. Thanks for that. :) I am playing my violin in stake conference next week!! It will be at the Machida building where I worked, with the Machida choir. They knew I was transferring but also that I would be in the same stake and really wanted me to play. So I said I would. :) Should be fun!

I am teaching English class. Every area in Tokyo has free English class every Wednesday night. Other classes vary depending on the missionaries. But the Wednesday one we always have no matter what. Here in Kofu we are also doing a kid eikaiwa on Saturday. It is fun, but I sure miss my little girls from Machida. I had a special group of kids there and since I found all the families with Sister Takei they were all really special to me. I know at least one family will be baptized if the missionaries keep working with them.

The people here take such good care of us. I cannot even explain how at home I feel here. Something about being surrounded by mountains, and the beautiful people here...just are so special to me. I will always love this place.

Monday, January 7, 2013

:)

Coming to Kofu has been special to me somehow. Like slipping into an old sweater, or coming in a warm house from the snow. I feel like I belong here. Something just tells me that, right now, I am supposed to be here. Like it's always been the plan. The feeling is beautiful and sweet. There is a peace and a burning that has entered my heart since coming here. I wish I could describe it better, but it's one of those things that you feel much more then you can say. 

Shogatsu gave me the chance to learn quickly about the ward and its fantastic members. We had 7 invites to peoples homes last week- all of them nearly back to back every day. I didn't know I was capable of digesting so much food!! And have you heard of mochi? Basically Japanese people are big fans of rice, and they've come up with every possible way to eat it. Mochi is one of them. To make mochi they get together and have 'mochisuki' which is kind of like a big party where everyone puts rice in these big log looking things and then pound it with mallets until it becomes this chewy white block of....well...mochi. Sometimes they add things like nuts or sea weed or sweet beans, and there are about a million different ways to eat it. One little block of mochi equals about one bowl of rice. Are you starting to understand the danger of mochi??? It's a good thing we are running every morning this transfer! "How many pieces of mochi would you like in your soup?" "Hmm maybe one would be good?" "Here have three!!" Hahaha. It was lots of fun though.

The members here are special. And I mean that with all my heart. They act like one big family here in Kofu. And they love us. They really take care of us, too. During Shogatsu they would drive us and coordinate with other people we were visiting the same day and take us from place to place...without us saying a word. Pretty much we just sat back and enjoyed the ride! We'd be sitting in the back of their car and they'd be on the phone with another member, talking about us and where they were taking us and what time we'd get where...Soderborg and I would just smile and laugh to ourselves. They also love to dendo with us and often call to take us out to visit less actives or do service. There are handfuls of members who jump at the opportunity to teach with us, and nearly everyone is willing to bend over backwards for the investigators. They even decide a week in advance who will sit with our investigators the next week, and who are the best fellowshippers. I've only been here a week and I am blown over impressed. I feel like we are here to help them in their already diligent efforts to bring other unto Christ. There is a prophecy from Elder Eyring about the work of the Lord flooding Japan, because of a change that will start  in the hearts of the members. Kofu is right on top of it!

One interesting fact about being in Kofu is that I'm only about one hour away from the Nagoya mission home...and over two hours away from my own. The Nagoya missionaries are right on the other side of Fuji san! Another great thing about Kofu...my apartment building has an elevator! And is literally right across from the church. Soderborg Shimai says that if she needs something at the church she'll make me get it while she watches from the window. It is a HUGE blessing being right next to the church building! Especially since my bike took a while to get here. Actually that ended up not being so bad because one of the members lent me their old mama-chari! I'm telling you, my happiness levels SIGNIFICANTLY increase when I start floating down the road on a mama-chari! I've been asking myself what I've been doing on a mountain bike...

Being with Sister Soderborg is a HOOT. I am NOT even kidding when I say that I laugh SO much with her that my abs are legitimately SORE. I have nearly choked on my water, or food, or mochi multiple times thanks to this lady! It is nearly impossible to sing or keep a strait face through district meetings when I am sitting next to her. Seriously, she is going to kill me! And I'm going to laugh the whole way out. It's interesting being with an American. I'm wondering if all my old American habits are going to start slipping into my mannerisms again. Something else I've been noticing while being with an American is the fact that there is no way we could be doing the things we're doing (in particular, saying the things we are saying) if the Lord's hand wasn't in this work. We get people asking us all the time "How many years have you been in Japan?" and then are astounded when we give them a number of months instead of a number of years. The gift of tongues isn't always necessarily a moment where you start spitting out words you've never said in your life- it's more often God blessing your mind with the capacity to study harder, learn faster, and retain things you've studied as higher levels then you otherwise could.

I want to share an experience now that actually happened a few weeks ago back in Machida. It was simple, but touched my heart. It was Sunday, during the last hour of church, which was Sacrament meeting. I was sitting by a less active member who was in church for the first time in years. It was one of those Sundays where I was exhausted and it was all I could do not to fall asleep through the meeting. There was a member of the stake presidency visiting our ward. He is actually half American, but grew up in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman. He is also the Japanese translator for President Monson. Anyway he was the last speaker and I was really trying to listen because I look up to him and wanted to hear his message. I don't remember now what the subject of his talk was that day, but I do remember that during one point something in his countenance changed and he began talking about missionaries. His hand went over his heart and he said that he, unexpectedly, felt strongly that he wanted to share his gratitude for the missionaries in Japan. He got a little emotional and went on to share how the missionaries leave behind everything to come and give their all to the Lord for a few years of their lives. He mentioned Sister Oseki and I by name in his talk. I was really touched by this. After the meeting, he came purposefully up to me and shook my hand. As I began to thank him for his talk, he looked me in the eyes and said, "I don't know what that was today...I just..." and then he paused and looked away, trying to find what he wanted to say, and then: "Well...Sister Wylie. The Lord loves you." and that was all.

I am so grateful for a father in heaven, who cares enough about little me, to send me a message of love through one of his priesthood servants. That Brother knew of the Lord's love. He felt it. What he didn't know was that my heart was desperately seeking for the light that he gave to me through his simple words, "Sister Wylie, the Lord loves you." The previous week I'd been through a whirlwind of unexpected challenges that started with my companion going to the hospital and our four baptismal dates failing. In my self doubt and feelings of inadequacy, I was starting to worry if I just wasn't enough. Through the Spirit, that touched the heart of this good brother, I was reminded of a loving Savior who has a perfect love for me, and who is not condemning me for my shortcomings. In reality, he stands with his arms outstretched, waiting for me to come to him. He doesn't live to judge us or make us feel bad when we fail. He lives to comfort us. He lives to love us. And he lives to save us.

God is in the details of our lives.
 
Something else that touched me in Machida is the beauty and purity of little children. Every week I taught English to a lively group of 3-year-old's whose families we'd found through streeting and housing in the local area. I grew to love these beautiful young families. Before each class we would open with a prayer. Now I would sometimes worry about trying to have a good experience with prayer with a bunch of such young girls. But I worried for nothing. After teaching them and their mothers how to pray, they participated every week with reverence. There is nothing that could've touched my heart more then these little girls sitting quietly at the table, fingers laced together, eyes squeezed shut and heads bowed, listening to the prayer. My last week one of the moms even commented after the prayer about how cute and precious it is watching them pray with us. I hope hope hope with all my heart that those wonderful mothers felt something as we prayed with their little girls! I hope they realize that there is someone up there, that the prayers are going beyond the walls of the room, to someone who loves them and their babies with an infinite love. Oh that I could make them understand that!

Okay this is getting long but back to Kofu for just a moment....I have to share a few of our miracles. Number one: we had three investigators in church on Sunday! Number two: one of those was there for the first time, and is a self referral named Emily. She has an American name but is actually Japanese. Emily is one of the most beautiful, most prepared people I have ever met. She ate up everything and took every book or pamphlet she could get her hands on. She was so happy to be there...and had so much light! Everyone kept asking what ward she was from because they thought she was already a member! I know my explanation is brief but there was a moment where I couldn't believe such an amazing person was sitting next to me throughout church...and then, I did believe it. Because we work under a God of miracles. Emily is so special. Please please pray for her. We are meeting her tomorrow at the church.

Number 3: Sister Soderborg gave a lesson in Spanish on Sunday to a Bolivian part-member family in our ward. Does Sister Soderborg speak Spanish? No! That's why it's in the miracle section. :) And yes it made my whole day to walk in a room filled with Bolivian people! The funny thing was I even had my Bolivian bag and photo book. Unfortunately I could not come up with A WORD of Spanish to save my life!!

I love you all so much. Oh!! By the way the bishop has a young teenage son who has autism, whose name is Kazuki kun. Kazuki kun has quickly become one of my favorite people in the ward. He can't talk much but is so adorable. He pretty much does what everyone else feels like doing but are too polite to do. He knew we were going with his mom to visit the Bolivian family and he was ready to go, so he grabbed Sister Soderborg's arm and pulled her out to the car, opened the door, and motioned wildly for her to get inside. He then went back to get his mother (who loves to talk) and tried the same approach. When pulling on her arm didn't work, he went in between her and the other members and pushed her until she began moving towards the car. Once we were all in he started motioning again and Sister Soderborg speaks charades so she figured out he wanted us to put on our seatbelts. Seriously he is ADORABLE. I'll try to get a picture with him soon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hello Mr. Fuji!!

Dear beloved and missed family across the pond....
 
Mt. Fuji san says hello.
 
He is peeking through my window.
 
Sister Soderborg also says hello. Though her name may lead otherwise, she is %100, bleeds red white and blue, native born, American!

This email is coming to you from my new desk in KOFU. Yamanashi prefecture. As awful as getting a transfer call was for me, my feelings were lightened by the news that I was being sent to Kofu; an area I've always wanted to come to. I heard the fruit is cheap here. :) A little about Kofu...it is a HUGE area because it is in the country. It took about three hours by train to get out here, but the scenery the whole was was absolutely gorgeous. Last night we went to a member's house and as we were on the porch I turned around and was thrilled to see Fuji san peeking over the mountains. The people out here are SO nice!! We were on a bus going to a member's house last night and we weren't sure of the stop, and the bus driver stopped and WAITED for us to call the member's and confirm the stop before continuing on! I couldn't believe it. A little concerned I turned around to see how the other people on the bus were handling the gaijin delay, and was relieved to find them all snoozing away, not caring or maybe not even aware of the situation. People are more relaxed out here away from the bustle of the city. Our apartment is on the third floor of a building that looks like a staircase. The church is across the street. It is such a cute town, and so different from being in the city. Sister Soderborg is from Heber and is HILARIOUS. We were actually in the MTC together for about three weeks. She came one transfer before me. It is so different being with a gaijin, but we're going to have a lot of fun this transfer.

When transfer calls came around the corner, I felt unmistakably how deeply Machida and its people have burrowed into my heart. Leaving was absolutely terrible. I did, however, have some sweet last moments with people there that I care so much for. I have a LONG list of addresses and people that I will keep in contact with the best I can. But now I have to put them all in the Lord's hands and move on to Kofu. They need my whole heart here too.

I came to Kofu right in time for SHOGATSU....New Years. The Japanese people take this holiday very seriously! Almost everyone is on break from work and will be spending the next week eating...and eating...and eating....and guess who's invited!! We have almost strait member visits scheduled every day for the rest of the week. We actually are told not to dendo during this week because people won't listen because it's SHOGATSU. So we are spending almost all our time with the beautiful members of Kofu.

So happy to be here. :) Machida will never leave my heart....but I suspect God is preparing room for the people in Kofu, too.
 
Will write more later this week when we actually have time for P-day!

I LOVE YOU.
 
Your Wylie Shimai