Monday, December 30, 2013

Hello again!

My first Christmas away from home was awesome! Very fun and very spread out over the week, so I kept getting to celebrate again and again. I have to admit it wasn't quite the same without family, but the people here took very good care of me and I was never sad or homesick. The best surprise of the week was getting the huge "Merry Christmas Sister MacArthur" poster from home - I remember signing those every year for other missionaries when I was little, but never did I imagine that there would be one with MY name on it some day. So surreal. I keep having little moments like that where it just hits me: I'm a real missionary.

After all the caroling on Monday, we decided to keep the Christmas spirit strong by knocking on doors and asking strangers if we could carol for them. One person said yes, but I was a little sad by how many people said no - Christmas just really doesn't have the same meaning here as at home. One man said "if you do it won't mean anything to me," which sort of broke my heart. It made me want to share our message even more - joy to the world, peace, goodwill to men. There is so much happiness waiting for them if they'd just take the first steps towards it!

Because of how busy Monday was, we switched our P-day to Tuesday and all four of us Sisters had our open-presents-bake-cookies-listen-to-Christmas-music party together. It was fun and we got SO MUCH food and clothing from the Niigata branch members - I forgot to take a picture, but imagine two huge boxes big enough to hold a person, filled to overflowing. Of course, Christmas isn't about the presents, but I was touched by how generous all these people were to someone they'd barely known for two weeks. In the evening we went to the Osekis' house, all nine of us missionaries plus more of their friends and family members, for Christmas Eve dinner. It was fun and a little chaotic, trying to figure out how to get all of us home on time. We ended up taking a taxi, carrying bags of leftover chicken in our laps.

The highlight of Wednesday morning, of course, was Skyping my family! That went by way too fast. Afterwards we went out to lunch with two of the ladies in the ward and practiced teaching the first lesson to them. That practice came in handy later that afternoon when we taught the first lesson to Sa. She is so sweet, and has such a desire to learn - she told us that before coming to church the first time, she'd prayed, pleading with God to help her convince her sons to come with her (apparently middle-school aged boys don't think church is the most exciting thing in the world). It worked, and she was so grateful. I sat there in awe as she was telling us this, wondering how in the world I got so lucky to get to teach her. She's beautiful, inside and out, and I can't wait to send a picture of us together when she gets baptized!

Christmas evening we spent with the Eikaiwa students, eating snacks, caroling in English and reading a Christmas story together. A lot of them said it was there first time celebrating Christmas, and it made them really happy.

We got the opportunity to teach Kim about the Word of Wisdom this week, and saw another miracle when she said she'd decided she should probably keep it, and promised to try her best. She was very hesitant to make any changes for so long, but now she's ready. Sometimes the hardest part about being a missionary is finding a balance between being bold and being patient - you want to help people make changes, and not stand idle if they don't, but at the same time it's not about you at all. It's all about their personal commitment and relationship with God, and we can't rush His timing.

I don't have much time left, but the rest of our week was filled with other lessons, powering through our Christmas candy, getting lost trying to find people's houses in the freak hailstorm blizzards, and trying to convince strangers to talk to us. On one of our adventures we found the Goblet of Fire and of course I put my name inside (see picture).

Let's hope that the miracles keep continuing through the New Year!
Love, Anna

Anna adds her name to the Goblet of Fire (somewhere in Niigata - who knew?)

Traditional missionary Christmas card from Eugene 3rd Ward

Monday, December 23, 2013

'twas the week before...


Another awesome week. Freezing, but good. The Christmas spirit is in full swing, which just makes everything better. I thought it would be sort of hard being in a place where Christmas isn't a big deal, but the church members have made up for that and more. All of the holiday celebrations remind me so much of home, from the silver bell music performances to the fake Santa Claus at the Christmas party to the little kids dressed up as shepherds with towels on their heads, acting out their surprise when being told by an angel that the Savior of the world had just been born in a stable.

We had a lot of adventures this week that came from being in a new area and not knowing where anything was. Before we visited people we'd carefully map out a route on Google maps beforehand, but it still always took forever to find their houses. I guess it did give us good opportunities to talk to all their neighbors though, asking for directions. Japanese people are always very helpful, but the ones here in Niigata really go above and beyond. We've had multiple people leave their homes and personally walk us to whatever building we're trying to find, just to make sure we understand! Unfortunately, none of my attempts to ask "hey you're super kind, so you probably want to learn about Christ, right?" have worked so far. Shimata! Anyway, I was feeling really frustrated about my continuing inability to navigate, when I came up with a brilliant solution to the problem:  Put Sister Wigginton in charge! So the next time we wanted to visit people, I put her in charge of writing down and remembering all of the directions in our 8-mile, 5-house loop. And it went off without a hitch! Not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of myself for figuring that one out. Until we get iPads I will continue to depend on other people's navigation skills.

Unfortunately only one of the five people we visited that day was home, but she was totally awesome. She spends all her time rescuing sick or injured dogs and cats, then taking care of them until they're well enough to be adopted. I love this woman. She showed us a ton of pictures of past animals she'd cared for, and I almost begged her to let us help sometime. I haven't seen as many stray cats wandering around here as I did in Oyama, and I miss them.

The Niigata train station is much bigger and busier than the one in Oyama, and at first I was a little overwhelmed and unsure how to start. Now instead of talking to any female we see, we only talk to a small fraction of the many busy people walking around. It's weird choosing people out of a crowd - I usually just go for people around my age because they're easier to talk to. Although it's funny, my ability to understand Japanese has seemed to improve a lot since I got transferred, but only sometimes. I'd heard missionaries talk about the gift of tongues a lot before, like not knowing what to say and all of a sudden a lightning bolt of inspiration puts the words in your mouth, or something like that. I hadn't felt like it had happened to me yet. But I've noticed that I'm better able to understand, when it counts. Like in a lesson, or when talking to mission leaders about our goals. I couldn't understand at all when a group of 12-year-olds at the Christmas party were asking me if I had a boyfriend, and probably looked like an idiot, asking them to repeat the question a million times. But does it matter? No. I think divine help only comes when it's important.

We taught our first Eikaiwa this week, which was really fun. Eikaiwa's always great. Here, instead of only 2 classes they have 3, including one for kids! Since we have 4 companionships of missionaries we might add another one next year, because the "beginner" class now isn't really very beginner. I was surprised by how many people here can speak English - it seems like almost everybody at church knows at least a little, and lots of people are pretty good. My goal for this transfer is to have them trust in my Japanese enough to stop giving a quick English recap of everything they say to make sure I understand. But they do that to all the missionaries, even the fluent ones - I think they like getting to use the English they know whenever they can.

Saturday we saw an amazing Christmas miracle. The investigator passed on to us from the other sisters, Kim, met with us for a lesson. She'd been thinking about getting baptized before, but never felt ready to make a decision and kept putting it off. We talked about her fears and ways to overcome them, and she was surprisingly open with us and very willing to try new things and make goals. The member we had with us was also super helpful, and a great example for Kim. Together we set a baptismal goal date, and she's going to work hard and let us help her get ready! It was Sister Wigginton's first "real", sit-down lesson with an investigator, and what an awesome first lesson! Lucky kid. Anyway, we're super happy. Saturday evening was the church Christmas party, which including some musical performances by two local university students. One sang and the other played piano, and it was incredible. Nothing is more impressive than a really well-done O Holy Night.

The miracles continued on Sunday when Sa san showed up at church again! She said she really liked it, and had read multiple chapters from the Book of Mormon I gave her! Amazing. Usually it's so hard to get people to read the Book of Mormon, and they have every excuse in the world, but she did it all by herself. We're going to teach her the restoration on Christmas, and I can't think of anything I'd rather do on that day. She is so sweet. Sunday evening all four of us sisters went to the train station and caroled, three of us singing at a time and the other one talking to nearby people about Christmas. It was really fun and made it less awkward to start sudden conversations with people. Later, I called Sisters Cortes and Taneda in Oyama and got to hear about the two baptisms in Oyama this weekend! Both Miro and Pe, a man the Elders had been teaching, got baptized, and from what I heard it was wonderful. What an awesome way for them to start the new year - a clean slate, and a new huge, loving family to be a part of.

Today we spent the morning and early afternoon with a bunch of members, caroling at a local old folk's home. I thought beforehand that it would just be a couple songs, but they had an elaborate program that they'd been practicing for a while. We sang some familiar Christmas hymns, in Japanese, then a few young kids sang some Japanese kids' songs. Then, the missionaries all sang Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town in English, complete with various musical instruments and our Branch Mission Leader dressed as Santa, handing out cookies. Afterwards we sang some Japanese holiday songs I'd never heard before, so I sang quietly while trying to copy other people and decipher the lyrics written out in kanji on the piece of paper I held. It was really fun, and the rest home people were so happy. We did the whole thing twice, once before lunch and once afterwards, to different groups of people.

Merry Christmas everyone!
Love, Anna

Niigata missionaries and university music performance students at the Christmas party

Niigata branch sister's Christmas tree in the tatami room

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sister MacArthur (December 15)

We received this email & pictures this week - so thoughtful!!


Dear MacArthur Family,

Please allow us to introduce ourselves.

This is our first mail to you. We’re members of the Niigata Branch.
Our only daughter was also working as a missionary until March 26th.
Our friend sent us pictures of our daughter every week.
We were very happy and looking forward to seeing those pictures every week.
So we decided to send pictures which make missionaries’ family happy.

My husband takes pictures and I write English.
I hope you can understand my English.
I can write English but I can’t send a mail with pictures.
So we share jobs and it takes time to send mails.
Two pictures are of our branch building.

Now our branch has 9 missionaries and the number is record.

We hope Sister MacArthur gets used to cold Niigata in winter.
We thank Sister MacArthur’s parents for sending your daughter to Japan.

Sincerely yours,
The O. Family

All nine missionaries in the Niigita Branch

Niigata Branch meetinghouse

Niigata Branch meetinghouse

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hello from up North!

Wow! What a crazy, crazy, week. Transfers are always nuts - it`s hard when you only have a few days to say goodbye to everyone who`s become your family and pack up your life into two suitcases and a bike bag. It also forces one to realize how much stuff they've mangaed to accumulate in four short months. Between Japanese people`s love of gift-giving and my shopaholic tendencies, I`ve collected quite a lot more things than I started my mission out with, and it was a tight fit getting my suitcases to zip shut. I also had to ditch a few things in my apartment, including my bike basket. It was very useful and I`ll miss it, but I have to admit that my bike seems much lighter and quicker now.

My week in review:
Tuesday we went to the bike shop in the morning for what I thought would be a five-minute oil job for my bike`s squeaky brakes. Turns out they were so loud because they`d almost completely worn out - after only four months! Apparently I drive my bike about how I drive a car - very sudden starts and stops, not very energy efficient - so I`ll try to be better from now on. There was also a pushpin stuck in my front tire. So, I guess it was good I fixed those problems. I feel a little safer now. Later we went to the hospital for my last lesson with Miro and his wife. I`m so sad to be missing his baptism! It was hard to tell him I wouldn`t be able to come. But they promised to send pictures! I also got to say goodbye to T, the exchange student from Australia, which was fun.

Wednesday was very bittersweet. We met one of our good friends in the ward for lunch at a way cool, very Japanese okonomiyaki restaurant. They had low tables with a deep dip in the ground underneath to put your legs. After that, we went to visit with three other women in the ward who have become dear friends. And such good examples to me! They are all such strong, independent women - I think they`d fit in well in the Eugene 3rd ward. In the evening we sang one last song to our favorite obaasan friend in her flower garden, visited another member and had Mr. Donuts for dinner (not planned, actually... I think it was fate). Then, it was time for Eikaiwa. That was the most sad! All of my friends were there, and lots of ward members came too, bearing Christmas gifts and goodbye hugs. For our last music corner we sang "God Be With You Till We Meet Again", AKA "World`s Saddest Song". I`ll never forget these kind, loving people that have become my family.

Thursday morning we got a ride to the train station in the morning, then met a bunch of other Sisters in Omiya, halfway to Tokyo. As one last miracle in Oyama we saw Patrique, my investigator from Congo, on the train! So I got the chance to say goodbye to him, too (I said this before, but this time I really mean it - my French is now AWFUL.) At Omiya I said goodbye to Sisters Cortes and Taneda and went to Honbu (mission home) with a everyone else who was going to train. There, we had a one-hour trainer`s training, basically stressing the importance of our job and making me even more nervous than I already was. Then, I got to meet my new companion! Her name is Sister Wigginton, from Sacramento. She also went to BYU, for two years, studying neuroscience. Smart cookie. She is also six feet tall!!! I can`t tell you how awesome it felt not to have to stoop down when we took a picture together.

Thursday afternoon we took the bus to Niigata, a five-hour journey. It actually didn`t seem that long - I`m really good at entertaining myself with my own thoughts. We traveled together with four Elders and one other Sister, whose companion was up in Niigata. When we finally got there (after passing through a snow storm!) the Zone Leaders were waiting for us, then we all took a bus to the church building. At the church building we met some Sister Missionaries who walked the girls to our apartment (five minutes from the church building). All ten of the Sisters in our zone were there, so we had a giant sleepover!

Quick tangent to talk about my new area: It`s HUGE. I think it`s the biggest area in our whole mission, and the farthest North. We don`t have snow yet, because the elevation is low, but it`s freezing. And extremely wet - Sister Crane said that "there`s three types of weather: slightly gray, raining, and typhoon." I live in an apartment with my companion, plus Sister Orton and Sister Crane. It's really fun having four of us. There are also five Elders here - nine missionaries! Even though the area's so big, there's only one branch here. About the same number of people come to church as the Oyama ward, maybe a little less, but there are over 400 less-active members who haven't been to church in years. It's way sad, and we definitely have our work cut out for us. My image of Niigata was sort of like "frozen wasteland in the middle of nowhere," but it's actually much more city-ish than Oyama. Much better shopping! Dangerous. It's also famous for it's good food - also dangerous.

Anyway, Friday morning we had Zone meeting. I was surprised how many more Elders there were than Sisters in this zone - Kiryu had so many girls! I guess that wasn't normal though. Anyway, my new zone leaders/ district leader are super goal-oriented, hardworking, and obedient. Nightly check-in calls, which used to just be kind of a quick chat, are now pretty intense. I think it's good though - it will motivate us to work harder. We spent pretty much all day Friday doing weekly planning and learning how things work here. The other sisters are passing a few of their investigators to us, a nice surprise, so we won't be completely starting from scratch. The new apartment is really big, and I love that we get to sleep in a tatami room! It's kind of old, though, and the power shorts out at least twice a day. Oh, well. Friday evening we went to the church to practice caroling with some of the members, which we're going to do next week at an old folks' home. It was fun.

Saturday we finally got to go out and explore and meet people! Before going to buy Sister Wigginton's bike we "helped" the Elders put mine back together. It's seriously embarrassing how incompetent I am at these kinds of things. We then successfully picked and purchased a bike for my companion, with the sales man very graciously helping us fill out the insurance form because I can't write kanji. For the rest of the day we walked around the mall, meeting people, inviting them to Eikaiwa, and trying to find new people to teach! We hadn't had much success, and had just decided to call it a day and go eat some udon, when we met Ko, a 17-year-old girl who left the friend she was with and went up two flights of escalators with us to show us the food court. So sweet! She then told us that she'd always wanted to see what a church building was like, so we said we could give her a quick tour at next week's Christmas party!

Sunday I finally got to meet my new church family. They were so kind, and so welcoming, and so ridiculously generous. One lady made lunch for all nine of us missionaries, and apparently she does is every week, and has been for years! We got to meet one of our new investigators from the other Sisters, so that was great too. But the biggest miracle happened when the Sa family showed up. They had seen an Eikaiwa flyer somewhere, and just came to church! It was so great getting to sit with them, and explaining about church, and watching them listen to all the talks and sing along with the Christmas songs. After the meeting I gave them a Book of Mormon and asked them to read it together as a family. Such an amazing miracle! I think the Lord knows that I have no idea what I'm doing and I need some extra help right now.

Today was a very good first P-day in Niigata. The Relief Society president in our ward had all four of us over for lunch (soo good!), and gave us lots of good advice on people to visit. We went to the dollar store, of course, and did some more shopping before going to the biggest, best panyasan (bakery) I've ever seen. Sister Orton calls it "the Mecca of all breads." It's all decked out for Christmas, and we met a mother and her super cute 4-month old baby there and got to talk to her for a little bit. One advantage of me and Sister Wigginton being giants is that our name tags are right at peoples' eye levels. Instant conversation starters!

Pictures: making okonomiyaki, last music corner, posing with the double-decker McDonald's bus that came out of nowhere, and world`s best bakery

Love you all!

Making okonomiyaki in a restaurant in Oyama

Last music corner in Oyama before transfer to Niigata

Anna and Sister Wigginton posing in front of a McDonald's double decker bus in Niigata

"World's best bakery" (panyasan) in Niigata

Monday, December 9, 2013

Transfer call results...

Hello everyone! Transfer calls were this morning, and I learned two things:
1) I am going to train a new missionary fresh outta the MTC. I don't know who she is yet, but I expected this (President Budge basically told me during my last interview).
2) I'm getting transferred, to Niigata! I did not see this coming at all. Niigata is the farthest North zone of our mission and actually used to be in Sendai boundaries. I enjoyed hearing about all the snow in Eugene this week, and it'll be like that where I'm going too! Literally a white Christmas.

I'm very, very nervous to be training in an area where I've never been before. When I got the transfer call, he kept saying "We've prayed a lot about this! We feel confident you can do it!" I think they say that to all the missionaries who get an assignment that's a little more than they think they can handle. I'll have to juggle teaching and learning, as I don't know anyone there or how to get anywhere or even where our apartment is. I'm also kind of sad to be leaving Oyama right before Miro's baptism, and Christmas. This place has become my home, and the people here my family. I've heard nothing but good things about Niigata though (other than the fact that it's freezing and covered in snow. Yikes). My image of it was a frozen wasteland in the middle of nowhere, but the area I'm going to is actually a pretty big city. Lots bigger than Oyama. So I'm excited for that!

Anyway, this week was crazy busy! Monday night we took an evening train to Shibuya to spend the night before temple day. It was fun seeing more of the city, and Sister Kubota's new place! Even though the Shibuya Sister's apartment is currently the most expensive missionary apartment in the world, it's pretty old, and I hear they're looking for a new one. I didn't see any cockroaches, but apparently there are lots.

Tuesday morning we went to the temple, which is always good. All the missionaries get to go every transfer (except Niigata zone, because it's too far away. I'll definitely miss the temple get-togethers while I'm there). Afterwards we ate lunch with a bunch of friends, including Sisters Dunn and Willden from my MTC district, and even got ice cream afterwards! It's much warmer in Tokyo than Oyama, so ice cream didn't seem that weird. If anyone has the opportunity to try French Toast flavor from Baskin Robbins anytime soon, I highly recommend it. While in Tokyo I noticed a troubling trend - it seems that many American missionaries have adopted the weird white medical masks that Japanese people wear when they're sick. It's super common, but I still refuse. Never ever. One of the girls was wearing one at the temple, and Brother Harrison, one of the senior couple missionaries, told her in his funny, blunt way, "you look like a bank robber!" I laughed.

When we came back on Tuesday, we had a really good lesson with Miro and his wife. We printed out "Away in a Manger" in Spanish beforehand and had Sister Cortes coach us on pronunciation on the train ride there so that we could sing it to them. I think they really liked it! I love Christmas music. Sister Cortes bought a MoTab CD at the temple bookstore (featuring David Archuletta!) so we've been listening to that recently.

Wednesday we ate pumpkin soup for lunch, visited various people, and got to have a last lesson with Sri before she goes back to Thailand. Then, in the evening, we had a special Christmas-themed Eikaiwa where we taught about the meaning of lots of Christmas symbols (holly, wreaths, candy canes, etc.) Luckily one of the women in our ward had info about it because I sure didn't know any of that stuff beforehand. We also sang carols in English, drank cocoa and made ornaments to decorate the big Christmas tree in the church building. It was really fun, and Aki got to come with some of her friends!

Thursday marked the 6-month mark of my mission. Completely blows my mind. We took a train to Maebashi (about an hour and a half) to go to a training for 2nd-transfer missionaries (Sister Cortes) and their trainers (Sister Taneda). Upon arriving there I was put with two other "extras" who didn't need to go the the training and we were given a bunch of "I'm a Mormon" flyers and told, "be back here in three hours!" It was actually really fun, getting to explore Maebashi and meet people. Lately I've felt like talking to people on the street is getting kind of hard in Oyama, but easy every time I go somewhere else. Maybe I've started to get stuck in a rut... and that's why I'm transferring! After training was over we had lunch with the Utsunomiya sisters before going on companion exchanges with Sister Ikeguchi, the Sister Training Leader. She came to Oyama with us and helped us meet people near the local university. We met two really nice girls who want to meet again, and gave a Book of Mormon to one of them!

Friday morning we had our last district meeting of the transfer, then went home to do weekly planning. In the evening we played ping-pong with some investigators before sharing a quick message with the seminary class. They usually meet in the morning, but Friday is from 7:30 to 8:30. Glad we didn't have to do that!

Saturday all three of us got sick - Sister Taneda blames the cold in Maebashi. I'm not sure what it was, but my throat's pretty scratchy. We walked around by the train station and a nearby outdoor mall, talking to whatever young girls we met. On the bus ride from the mall back to the station I talked to a really nice high schooler who's taking a class trip to Montreal in a few months! I told her that I took a class trip to Montreal too, when I was younger, and it was fun to talk about that. Saturday evening was Stake Conference, so we drove over with the bishop's wife (an hour an a half both ways). I understood a lot more than I thought I would, and it was all about member-missionary work.

Sunday morning was part two of stake conference, and it was wayyy far away. Like two and a half hours by car. It was in a huge community center, not a church building, with ushers and people holding signs in the parking lot and everything. It was pretty cool seeing so many people from the stake, and I recognized a lot of them! I've met people from other wards at random church events like the 40-year anniversary party, wedding reception, etc. After conference we went to a family in our ward's house and ate crab for dinner!

Today, after transfer calls, we met as a zone to play volleyball and ate Indian curry afterwards. It was way fun and way exciting to see where everyone's going. Lots of nervous people, excited people, everything. I have to rush home and pack and figure out how to take my bike apart now... crazy crazy crazy!

Well, out of time now but I hope everyone is going well! I'd appreciate it if people could pray for whatever poor soul gets me as a trainer. "Welcome to Japan, where we get lost in the snow all day!"

Love, Anna

Eating Baskin Robbins ice cream in Tokyo

Decorating the Christmas Tree in Oyama Ward building after Eikaiwa

Thanksgiving dinner with the Oyama District at a member couple's home

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy December!

Mina san! Can you believe it's already December? Time flies. In four days I will officially be 1/3 done with my mission. 33% finished! I feel like I just got here! I can barely speak Japanese, but I only have a year left. Scary, scary, scary.

We started the week with an awesome lesson. We got to meet with Aki, and her friend Kei that comes to all the lessons/church with her. Aki told us that the president of the company where she works apparently knows President Monson, and wants to incorporate some of the church's organization into the structure of his company. Awesome! But the best part was when she told us that when she heard that announcement, she felt very proud and wanted so badly to raise her hand and say, "I'M a Mormon!" Hearing that made me so happy - my smile wouldn't go away for the rest of the day. Aki wants to be baptized in the beginning of January, and Kei said that she would too! We were never really sure how much interest Kei had, and never even counted her as an investigator, but now she's getting baptized. Amazing.

Wednesday we had district meeting, where everyone was asked to give a short presentation on different assigned topics. I spoke about hope, which was a little ironic because I had been starting to wonder how in the world we were ever going to reach our goal of seeing a baptism before Christmas. But then, that evening, a miracle happened. While I stayed at the church to teach Eikaiwa in the evening with Sister Taneda, Sister Cortes went on splits with a member in our ward to teach Miro, the investigator who's been studying every night out of a Gospel Principles textbook. When Sister Cortes came back after the lesson, she was excited to tell us how well it went. When he was young, Miro studied to be a Catholic priest, but eventually stopped because of all the corruption he saw in the church. He didn't think it went in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Now, he's so excited to be learning again, and is happy that he's finally found the truth he's started looking for so long ago. He wants to get baptized on December 22nd, two days after his wife gets out of the hospital, so that she can be there with him. And when she's well enough, she wants to get baptized too!

And so my hope was restored. Isn't it funny how little things like that work out? I've noticed that we're often asked to teach others about things we need to learn for ourselves. At the last Sister Missionary training, Sister Dunn and her companion gave a presentation on exercise. She told me that they'd been getting pretty lazy before getting that assignment and joked, "we've been called to repentance!" No more being a "futon missionary" - what we call the missionaries whose exercise in the morning consists of lying on their futon and maybe stretching or doing a couple sit-ups. So far all of my companions have fallen into this category. Sister Cortes actually bought a jump-rope, with good intentions of using it, but then realized that we live on the 3rd floor and our downstairs neighbors might not like waking up to thumping at 6:30 in the morning. And during this time of year, going outside in the morning is not an option. Too cold.

Thursday was... Thanksgiving! That was one holiday I thought I'd have to kiss goodbye for two years, but one of the couples in our ward invited our whole district over for an American Thanksgiving lunch - turkey, stuffing, everything. I forgot how much I love stuffing. I even ate a little turkey, just because. My first time eating Thanksgiving turkey since 2007, and I did it in Japan! Crazy. It was a little hard to stay awake that afternoon during planning time because of the food coma, but we made it through. That evening, we went to the church for "music night" with the Elders and some investigators. We all took turns singing hymns, and I played the piano and Elder Justesen played guitar. It was fun and relaxing.

Friday we thought it would be a good idea to try to get in touch with Oshi san, who we'd taught a little bit a few weeks ago, by visiting her at the restaurant where she works. Turns out it wasn't the best talking opportunity, since she was busy and didn't really want to have a long conversation. Good ice cream though. After that we went and visited my favorite old obaasan, the one who always gives us flowers, and sang to her and gave her a Book of Mormon to read. She said she'll try to read it but probably won't be able to see. No matter where you are in the world, old people love to say the same things: "You're so young!" "Aren't you cold?" "Wait, let me get my reading glasses."

Friday evening we did ping-pong night again, where we got to spend a lot of time with Jas, the girlfriend of one of the Elders' investigators. She's really nice, and wants to know more about missionaries and church! I've really enjoyed getting to spend time with people my own age this week. It's easier to understand them and communicate, and I feel like I can really be myself.

Church on Sunday was awesome. We had four investigators there, and they all really enjoyed it! It was also testimony meeting, which is easier for me to understand since the talks are shorter and not as formal. Very good day.

No time for pictures, gomenasai! Hope everyone is well.

Love, Anna

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello everybody! I'm sort of in shock after reading about all the recent engagements of friends from home so sorry if this letter seems scatterbrained. I'll do my best to organize my thoughts...

This Tuesday was awesome! We woke up suuuuper early to catch a train to Tokyo, where we had a two-mission conference. Elder David F. Evans came and spoke to both our mission and the Tokyo South mission. It was really powerful - he wasn't an overly serious person, and actually made jokes the whole time, but I could tell he was a man led by God. That sounds so cheesy to me as I type it, but it's true. He shook every single missionary's hand before starting.When he spoke, I listened.

And he said a lot of great things! He talked a lot about the importance of obedience, and understanding other people's perspectives. He also encouraged us to date each other when we get back home and pretty much get married as soon as possible - he even said something like "it's possible you could notice each other while missionaries, then pursue that relationship when you get back home." Out of all the many missionary addresses I've read/listened to, THAT was a first.

After the conference all of the missionaries in our mission went back to the mission home for a "holiday taikai" (meeting? party? not sure exactly). Sort of weird to celebrate Christmas before Thanksgiving, but it was fun! We sang carols, had a white elephant gift exchange (with really cute, thoughtful gifts brought by the Sisters and weird funny ones brought by the Elders) and watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It was the first time I'd seen a non-church movie in a while! We also watched a Budge family spoof on Home Alone, which was funny.

On Wednesday before Eikaiwa we met with Sri (from Thailand) and read a chapter of the Book of Mormon with her. When we asked her what she understood from it, she basically went through each verse individually and told us exactly what they were talking about. It was awesome! So many people are hesitant to read the scriptures because they think they're too hard to understand, and she'd been saying that at first too, but after reading it she said, "Oh, I get it. The first time through was a little hard but the second time everything made sense." Amazing!

Thursday evening we got to teach one of the family in our ward's exchange student from Australia, T. She had so many deep, profound questions about why we're here, and how we can know if there's a God, and what happens after we die, etc. Questions that are REALLY hard to answer in Japanese, so I was grateful for an opportunity to teach in English. Even then, it was hard. She's a very kind, smart girl, and I hope she's able to recognize that our message contains the truth she's looking for.

Friday morning we biked out to the house of one of the young families in our ward who just had a new baby girl! She was so cute. On our way there we saw a man lying in the middle of the road, pinned under his motorcycle, so we went over and helped him up and off the side of the road. He was kind of funny, and probably had a concussion - at one point he sort of half-whispered to Sister Taneda asking if he could take a picture of me. She politely said no. I think that he thought I couldn't understand, and I played along to avoid awkwardness. I'm getting good at that. Friday evening we had a "ping-pong night" at the church with the Elders and some of our friends, and that was fun. We did a March Madness-style bracket tournament, and Sister Taneda won! I was out pretty quick.

On Saturday we went on splits, so Sister Cortes and I went to Utsunomiya to spend the day with the Sisters there. The adventure of the day happened when we realized we forgot to give the apartment key to Sister Taneda before leaving, so we had to take the train all the way back to Oyama, then back to Utsunomiya again (about half an hour each way). Oops. It was really fun though - Utsunomiya has a lot more people than Oyama, and it's a lot easier to start conversations in the street. We met a really funny man who was singing some Beatles and Michael Jackson for us while moon walking, and a lot of really nice girls out shopping for the day. We finished up by eating some famous Utsunomiya gyouza (dumplings). Oishii!

Sunday was a really good day. I played the piano in church and only had one major mess-up (started playing the wrong page), and our investigator who came to church said he's been studying out of the Gospel Principles book with his wife, and that they're both working hard. In the evening we had an "International Thanksgiving" potluck with our investigators and ward members - everyone brought food, and we went around the circle introducing ourselves and saying what we were grateful for. Seven countries were represented: Japan, America, Mexico, China, Peru, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. It was really fun. I made a sweet potato pie from the recipe Mom sent, and it turned out really really good.

Not much time left, but I thought I should mention this: we had interviews today with President Budge, and he basically told me there's a big chance I'll become a trainer next transfer. Yikes. Time is going by so fast, and I just hope I'll be ready. It's a scary thought. When he asked me if I thought I was ready to train I gave the classic missionary non-answer, "I'll do whatever the Lord needs me to do."

Pictures - my old MTC district reunited, and me and Sister Taneda with Sri. I've caved to peer pressure and started doing peace signs in pictures.

Love you all!

Anna reunited with MTC district

Anna and Taneda Shimai and Sri

Monday, November 18, 2013

hello from iceland

Mina san, konnichiwa! It is FREEZING here. I know this is only the beginning of winter, but it's still pretty tough sometimes. Especially in skirts. Leaving the house without tights now is unthinkable, so I had to buy a lot more, and my size is a little hard to find. I don't know if you were aware of this, but I'm a little taller than the average Japanese person. We also bought some "heat-tech" long sleeve shirts that are awesome. Yikes, I need to stop spending money. This place is like a shopper's paradise, with cute stuff everywhere that I convince myself I need and can afford. If Luke comes here you best keep him on a short leash.

Tuesday this week was awesome. In the morning we visited one of our investigators, then a less-active member (and her FOUR cats. Awesome). Later, we visited a lady in our ward's mother, who was in the hospital after being hit by a car. She's currently in rehabilitation and pretty lonely during the day, because her family members all work and can only come see her in the evenings. She also doesn't speak much Japanese, so it made her really happy to get to talk to Sister Cortes in Spanish for a while (and occasionally a few things to me and Sister Taneda). While leaving the hospital I saw sumo wrestling on TV - I think it was the first time I've actually seen real people do it, not just cartoons or Veggie Tales. Super weird. In the evening we had "family home evening" at the church with the Elders, ward members, and two of our investigators, finishing it with a ping-pong tournament. I was out pretty early.

Wednesday we taught a mogi (role play) lesson to a lady in our ward, then had lunch with her afterwards. I don't think practice lessons are a thing in America, but here we do them maybe once or twice a week to practice Japanese (and ask for referrals). It was way yummy, and she gave us a ton of food afterwards too. We had three heads of lettuce in our fridge, all gifts from members, so Sister Taneda kept saying "lettuce party!", without even knowing that it sounded like "let us party." We laughed about that one for a while - we pretty much think everything is funny these days, whether it actually is or not. Sister Taneda's laugh is infectious and sometimes I have to remind myself to not look like a middle school girl! Before teaching Eikaiwa we had a short lesson with one of our investigators, and it was really great because it was the first time she said a sincere prayer, using her own words. We'd taught her about prayer before but she was always more concerned with how to say it than what it meant, and just read the steps aloud from the pamphlet. This time it came from her heart.

Thursday and Friday we spent mostly with members; visiting less-actives, eating dinner, mogi lessons. I've really been feeling closer to the ward lately, and it's awesome. I've grown to love them so much. Friday we also had zone training, where we had little lessons given by older missionaries on various topics.

Saturday we got a break from all the cold, and spent the beautiful sunny day getting lost in the Japanese countryside. We went to visit an investigator who works at a flower nursery that's about a 25-minute bike ride from our apartment. But we thought we'd take a shortcut (literally every story that starts that way ends badly) and the journey ended up taking over an hour. But it was fun! Trekking through the mud and rice paddies, grateful that Sister Taneda could read the GPS because it's all in Japanese and I don't understand it at all. Anyway, by the time we finally got to the greenhouse our investigator wasn't there - zan nen! It was sort of funny, in a way. We consoled ourselves by eating takoyaki and talking to all the young mothers with cute Japanese babies at a nearby mall.

Church was way fun this Sunday - it was the primary program! There were about 8 kids between 3 and 12 who spoke and sang. In some ways it was exactly like the primary program at home - varying levels of memorization, cute and extremely enthusiastic off-key singing, and every single kid trying to fiddle with the microphone. In the middle of it all I remembered the infamous primary program when Ben forgot his lines and said "crap" into the microphone, which sounded across the whole chapel. Good times.

Sunday evening we also saw a miracle. We went out looking for a kinjin ("golden person" in Japanese, what we call people who actually want to take lessons from us after first meeting) and were just about to head home when we saw a bunch of people leaving a university building. We decided to go check it out, and stopped a girl around our age heading out to ask her what was going on. She said she'd spent all day there, listening to a seminar on truth and how to find it. What a coincidence! We told her WE were really interested in finding truth too, and spent all our time teaching about it! Then her sister and friend came over, and we all talked for a while. They were super nice and wanted to exchange phone numbers so we could meet again. Yosh!

P-day today was pretty calm. We went to the Japanese class in the morning and had lunch with our friends there afterwards, then visited a nice old lady to sing a hymn to her. After getting some things at the dollar shop we went to Mr. Donuts... again. It's embarrassing how much we go there. They recently discontinued their point cards, much to my dismay - probably because missionaries were abusing them too much. They're doing a Peanuts promotion right now, and if you look closely you can see that our donuts are shaped like Snoopy, Woodstock, and Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. Peanuts is really big here, but no one knows it's name - they just call everything "Snoopy."

Hope everything's well at home!

Anna and Sisters Taneda and Cortes at Mr Donut.

Monday, November 11, 2013

hello again

Can't believe it's Monday again! This week was probably one of the most fun on my mission. We taught about the same amount of lessons as usual, and did the same kinds of things, but for some reason I've just been really happy lately. My companions and I get along great, and we're always laughing. Everyone has also been really excited lately about "White Christmas" - our goal for every ward in the Tokyo mission to see a baptism before Christmas. There's been lots of talk about miracles, and I know we'll get to see some of our own.

I guess I'll give a report of the week. On Monday night we visited one of our neighbors who we met a while ago. Earlier, she'd said we could come back and talk to the family about the Book of Mormon, but every time we came by they didn't answer the door. This time she did, and apologized and said she felt sorry for us always making the effort to come over. She accepted a Book of Mormon and promised to read it! The funny thing is, that's how most of the ward members' conversion stories start - they felt bad for the missionaries. Hey, whatever works! My pride's long gone.

Tuesday we got to teach a lot, and had a fun fondue party at the church after our last lesson in the evening. The ward members here are so kind!

Wednesday was Sister Cortes' birthday! I made cupcakes from a Japanese mix, and they turned out okay but sort of a weird consistency. I'm still getting used to Japanese baking. We had dinner at a sushi restaurant to celebrate, then went and taught Eikaiwa, which is always awesome. We had a lot of new students this week, and they were all so kind! It was also Sister Kubota's birthday so we called her in Shibuya. Same day!

Thursday was good because we had two lessons with two of our most progressing investigators - Aki, and Hoso. They are polar opposites. Aki loves to talk and tells us everything - she really, really, wants to be baptized, but still has to work out a few things first. Hoso is very mysterious and doesn't offer up much information about himself. He's interested in learning about the church, maybe from an intellectual perspective. I don't think joining the church would mean any major life changes for him, but he still wants to take things slow and mull over his decision.

Friday was also a good day. We had the first district meeting of the transfer, and got to meet all the new missionaries. Our district is HUGE now - I wonder if they'll eventually split us into two! More and more missionaries keep coming, and space is getting tight.

On Saturday we spent the morning at the Oyama Ward 40th anniversary party. It was fun to see all the old pictures (like the tiiiiiiny loft they used to meet in before getting their own building) and meet members who hadn't been to church in a long time. Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun reconnecting. We also played funny games - Japanese people seem to get a lot more into games than Americans. At least for adults. We did all these silly activities that usually little kids might do at a birthday party, but everyone was totally up for it. It was awesome. We also came home from the party with an unprecedented amount of food - we even took a picture of all of it. And that was BEFORE the bishop and his wife stopped by our apartment with even more.

On Sunday we had appointments with two of our Peruvian investigators, and one of them remembered. 50-50 is actually better than usual! The lesson went really well, and she said that she felt like she has all the same questions as Joseph Smith had, so she was happy to finally be able to learn the answers. It's moments like these, when I hear that, (at least when I hear Sister Cortes' translation a few minutes later) that make this all worth it. Sometimes I feel like nobody wants to listen to us and we're not accomplishing anything, but small miracles happen all the time that make each day worth it. Aki sometimes texts us to say she felt God's love when she prayed, or that she was able to accomplish one of her goals, and it's so incredible to witness her life changing. We're here for a reason.

I'm also growing to love the Japanese people more and more, with all of their quirks. Everyone here seems to be able to catch flies with one hand, which I thought was cool. They also LOVE giving little gifts. Even people we don't know give us things - I said konnichiwa to a lady at the train station last week and she responded by giving me a bag of squid jerky (pretty good, actually. Or maybe I was just hungry). They also love kleenex - everywhere you go, people are handing out free packs of kleenex with advertisements inside. Meme would love it.

While looking back at the pictures I chose to send, I realized they all have to do with food. Well, I guess that's accurate - we eat a lot here. Good times and bad times, whether we're hungry or not. It's terrible. I used to roll my eyes when people talked about "stress eating" but it's REAL. The fish-shaped cake things are called taiyaki and are filled with pudding/anko/cheese and are sooo good. Discovery of the week.

Love you all! Take care!

Happy Birthday to Cortes Shimai

Anna and Taneda Shimai celebrate the Ward's kindness


Monday, November 4, 2013

can't believe it's november!

Mina sann! Hello!

This week was transfer week, so it was crazy busy even though I stayed in the same place. Missionaries who transfer have to pack everything up and ship it to the next location, including bikes. Who knew that taking the wheel and handlebars off a bike would be so hard? No matter how hard we tried, Sister Kubota's handlebars wouldn't budge. Literally used ALL of our strength. So we eventually caved and called the Elders for help, and of course when they came over it took them five seconds to do it, seemingly effortlessly. Embarrassing. Then we gave them treats as a thank-you... I've officially become a sister missionary stereotype.

My new companion, Sister Taneda, is one of the kindest, friendliest people I've ever met in my life. Whenever she talks to others I just watch in awe. She's 24 and from Kobe. She's been on her mission for a year, and has all kinds of cool ideas, so I can definitely learn a lot from her! She also doesn't really speak English, which I was a little worried about at first, but it's worked out fine so far. We pretty much only speak Japanese in the apartment, except I use English with Sister Cortes when it's just us.

I don't have much time so I'll keep my weekly report short. Basically the first half of the week was full of goodbyes - to members, friends, investigators, Eikaiwa students, etc. Sister Kubota and Elder Howard, my district leader, both left, and they will both be missed. Hopefully with six missionaries in Oyama now, we'll be able to fill their shoes and more!

On Thursday we traveled to Omiya to meet a bunch of other missionaries and exchange companions. Before heading back we all ate lunch together... at McDonalds. Not my choice, but I was sort of curious about what a Japanese McDonalds would be like. Just as gross as America! The apple pies are still yummy though.

Sister Taneda came just in time for weekly planning, and as a companionship we all made goals for what we want to do this transfer. We all have high hopes, and having a new teacher has its advantages - there were a few investigators we were sort of "stuck" with, unable to help them progress because they just saw us as friends and didn't really care much about church things, and we managed to give both of them Books of Mormon this week and they promised to read! Miracles every day.

On Saturday a couple of policemen stopped us and asked me and Sister Cortes for our gaijin cards (visas), so that was kind of exciting. They were super nice about it, even though I don't approve of their racial profiling. We also met a bunch of exchange students from Vietnam who were really excited to talk to us, and it was so fun trying to communicate through both of our broken Japanese efforts! I think it was the first time I've heard Vietnamese (is that what their language is called?) being spoken - really interesting.

Since I'm now area Senpai (most experience) we've gotten lost a fair bit, but not as badly as I'd feared. So it's okay. My inability to navigate even helped us one time - I was trying to think of the fastest way home, but could only remember one way, which was super long and round-about. I knew there was a shortcut, but for some reason as I tried to imagine the road the image was being blocked from my mind. Frustrated, I gave up and led us to the long way home that I knew, and on the way saw a woman at a stoplight who I felt I should say hi to. She said hello back, then asked where I was from. The light turned green, interrupting our conversation, and she walked on - but for some reason I chased after her, awkwardly trying to ride my bike and fish a flyer out of my bag at the same time. I told her we were church volunteers who taught free English class, and she got really excited and said she wanted to come! I'll never know if my inability to remember the way home came from on high or from my own stupidity, but I guess it doesn't matter. I constantly have to remind myself that I'm not here to do things my way, but His.

All for now! I'm attaching a picture of Elder Justeson playing the guitar at Music Corner, and me and Sister Taneda eating ramen (sorry my tag is covered... bad missionary).

Ai shite iru yo,

Music Corner at Eikaiwa (English class).  

Anna and new companion Taneda shimai.  Note the petite bowls.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hello from... still Oyama!

Konnichiwa mina san. This week was way fun and way busy, starting with temple day and a special Sister Missionary training on Tuesday. We woke up at four to catch the train to Tokyo but it was worth it! All of the Sister Missionaries in our whole mission were together, and we got to listen to speakers, music, do some group activities, and of course eat. It was really fun to see everyone again, and the speakers were really good. One woman gave a talk about modesty and the need to respect our bodies that I actually enjoyed - that in itself was a miracle!

Wednesday was a day of miracles. The lessons we taught went really well, we got good news from our investigators, and we found a really nice family while housing. Tsu san. When we showed her the Book of Mormon, she looked at it and said, "oh, does it say nice things like the Bible? I like the Bible. I'm really interested." Sometimes when people actually want to talk to us it's hard not to let the shock show on our faces. Just keep smiling, like "of course you do! Who wouldn't?"

We continue to teach in every language possible. We did another lesson in French on Monday, and on Wednesday we visited one of our ward members from Peru and her father. He'd speak to Sister Cortes in Spanish, who translated in English for Sister Kubota, who then relayed the same message in Japanese to the ward member who was there with us. I sat and smiled and nodded when I understood.

On Thursday we had our last district meeting of the transfer - it was kind of sad to think of all the people who will be going home soon, like my Sister Training leader and one of the Zone leaders. We had a little testimony meeting together which was really sweet, then ate lunch at a ramen shop. After that we went on splits, so one of the Utsunomiya sisters came to Oyama with us while Sister Kubota left. We had fun talking to lots of different people, and made a few new friends at the train station.

Friday it rained and rained and rained - it was the first time since coming here that I've felt unsafe on a bike. My bike light is pretty weak, so nighttime is a little risky sometimes. But don't worry! I'm a defensive biker. The one upside to rain is that no one wants to leave their house, so all the people we visited that day were actually home (it's really hard to make appointments sometimes, so we do a lot of "surprise visits" to our investigators' houses). One of our investigators gave us all big bags of clothes to take home - she says she's "too fat" for them now, but probably weighs half what I do. Everyone here is so tiny.

Saturday we went to our ward Halloween party. It was really fun and well-planned, with lots of games and activities. It was fun seeing the different types of costumes - AnPanMan, a really famous Japanese cartoon character, was a popular one. I worked really hard on my costume, as you can tell from the picture below - dollar store headband! There were lots of cats that night.

Sunday was good, as always. I like going to church and seeing everybody, even though it's a little hard to stay awake sometimes. Very mentally exhausting. I'm slowly starting to understand more and more, but it's still hard. It also doesn't help that I have to wear nylons, which I'm pretty sure are torture devices. All blood circulation is cut off from my brain.

Today we had zone P-day in Oizumi, which is like mini Brazil town in the middle of Japan. We all met at a park and played soccer and other games, plus ran into a huge group of preschool kids who were all so cute. They loved playing with us and took a million pictures. Afterwards their teachers had them perform a cartwheel/frog jump/bridge routine for us. I'll probably see some of them again, doing gymnastics for Team Japan when I come back to watch the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!

The other big news from today was... transfer calls! Oh man I was so nervous. I'm staying in Oyama, and so is Sister Cortes, but Sister Kubota is leaving and another Japanese missionary, Sister Taneda, is coming to replace her. I've heard that Sister Taneda is really nice, but I'm a little nervous about not having Sister Kubota here! Everyone really loves and trusts her so much, and also now I'm in charge of directions. My ability to navigate is still horrible - whenever you pray for me, please don't worry about my safety/happiness/health/whatever, all that is fine. But please ask God to help me not get lost.

Our mission is growing so fast that we barely have space for all the new missionaries! Almost all the companionships in my district are trios now, and we're getting over 60 new missionaries before Christmas. Crazy. I'm excited for this next transfer and hope I see lots of miracles to write home about!

Love you all, take care!
- Anna

Anna at Oyama Ward Halloween Party

Anna and Shimai Kubota and Shimai Cortes at the Tokyo Temple

Monday, October 21, 2013


Well, as predicted in my last letter, I'm already regretting my wish for colder weather. I got that and more this week as I experienced my second typhoon in Japan. It wasn't too bad, just a lot of wind and rain, but it was so loud outside that I could barely sleep at all. Also all of our plans got cancelled - typhoons always seem to happen when we're busy! I've gotten lots of use out of my super shareta (stylish) rain suit. I keep meaning to take a picture... someday!

I got asked the same question by three different people this week, after seeing how tall I am: "what did you eat as a kid?" It's like I'm a walking advertisement for the milk industry.

This week was pretty good, besides the typhoon. Last Monday we went to a member's house in the evening for a birthday party, and got to meet some returned missionaries who left Oyama just before Sister Kubota got here, and had come back to visit. The ward loved them, so I'd heard a lot about them. Hopefully the wards I serve in will remember me like that! It was funny because one of them was wearing a white shirt and tie, and kept asking us about all of our investigators. Still in missionary mode I guess.

We tried out something new this week by having "music corner" after Eikaiwa where everyone who stayed later could sing and listen to one of the Elders play guitar. It turned out really well, and most people stayed! We sang "Book of Mormon stories" and explained what the song meant and talked a little about the Book of Mormon.

On Thursday we had a really good lesson with H., who we found kind of on accident. His wife got baptized when she was in high school but hasn't been to church in years, so we went to visit her a few weeks ago and he answered the door instead. He didn't know anything about the church, but agreed to meet with us again to learn more, and now we've gotten to teach three lessons to him and his wife together! He's like the perfect investigator - listens carefully and understand things well, asks questions, shows interest, is honest about his opinions. It would be so amazing to get to watch them be sealed in the temple as a couple, and I hope I'll have the opportunity before I go home.

Friday we spent all morning at zone training, which is always fun. I love getting to see everyone and getting to hear pep talks in English! Saturday was really fun, because our ward had a barbecue. Lots of people came, and almost a third weren't members! So we got to meet new people, and watch our investigators form friendships with the ward members. It was awesome. We played group games (Japanese adults seem to get into games a lot more than American ones , it's awesome) and ate and ate and ate. In some ways it was really similar to a barbecue at home, except the food was way different. Yakisoba, fried pumpkin and garlic, some mystery meat that looked suspiciously like spam, and a bunch of other stuff.

Oh, I almost forgot the funniest part. There were two (possibly feral?) cats hanging around, but instead of telling their children to stay away, like Americans probably would, everyone kept trying to catch them and pet them. Even the bishop at one point crouched down and try to lure one over with a piece of meat held between chopsticks! These are my people.

Another random fact about Oyama: the sacrament bread here is way better. Usually at home it's just a scrap of whatever the cheapest bread at the grocery store happened to be, but here I swear it's like fresh from the bakery challah loaves every week. Awesome.

Miracle of the week: One of the women in our ward has been having a lot of really hard family problems lately. Her home has been described as a "war zone" - everyone fighting, lots of chaos. She's the only one in her family who's a church member and she wants so badly to have the perfect, loving, church-going family of her dreams, and had just about given up and was planning on moving out when suddenly her dad announced he'd start going to church with her every week. Both of her parents came yesterday, and really enjoyed it. The best part was seeing how happy they all were together, and how they're working together to strengthen their family.

I just want everyone in the world to know about the incredible blessings this gospel can bring! There's so much work to do!

Love, Anna

Oyama Ward BBQ Picnic

Feral Oyama cat observing the picnic

Monday, October 14, 2013

another update!

Hello hello hello!

I hope everyone is doing well. This week was hot - reminded me of when I first got here. Everyone keeps talking about how miserably cold winter is in Japan but honestly I'm so ready to be done with this heat. I'm sure I'll regret saying that in a few months, but oh well. Halloween is approaching and even though it's relatively new in Japan a lot of people's houses are decorated - it makes me feel like I'm trick-or-treating when we go knocking on doors! However, since I'm currently a representative of Jesus Christ, it might be distasteful to go back and T.P. the people who shut their doors in our faces.

I told Sister Kubota it was her turn to decide what to do for P-day today so we cleaned the apartment for an hour an a half... yay! Haha actually it wasn't that bad... cleaning has become incredibly satisfying for me. Yikes I'm turning into such a good little Mormon homemaker, it's scary. OK I shouldn't say that mockingly, I just listened to the conference talk yesterday about the importance of women in the home and how noble their work is. Kuiaratameru [repent?]!

Conference was awesome, by the way. I got to listen to it in English! I think this was the first time I've ever gotten through all 8 hours without falling asleep. Being a missionary will do that to ya. I actually listened to one talk in Japanese, and while I still barely understood anything, I was able to pick out a lot more that I thought I'd be able to. So I guess that's progress? Aki came to watch some, and K. too, and they both seemed to really like it.

Now for the miracle of the week... we set a baptismal date with Aki!! She still has trouble believing she'll be able to make the necessary changes in time, but I think having a concrete goal will help motivate her and give her self-confidence. She works so hard, and has to take care of so many people in her very complicated and confusing family situation, that I want more than anything for her to be able to experience the peace and happiness the gospel brings. She deserves it. I've never met anyone with more desire - or more obstacles in their way - to get baptized.

We had a special 2-zone conference on Thursday, where we got training from the Budges, the APs, zone leaders, and mission doctors. They put a lot of emphasis on being ready - we talked about emergency preparedness, staying healthy, and preparing ourselves to teach. There were a lot of football analogies and we all now have a PDF file made by President Budge called the "playbook" where we can store all of our favorite scriptures, stories, and teaching aids to have on hand at all times. We also got a chance at the end to hear from all of the missionaries leaving next transfer - I knew them all, and they were amazing examples to me of faith and dedication. It's hard to imagine our mission without them.

One good consequence of the zone conference was that after all they said about the importance of cardiovascular exercise, Sister Kubota said she'd set a goal to run every morning this week! So now I can too!! I'd been missing it. I always feel bad asking to go running since neither of the other two ever wanted to. We had a few times before though, whenever Sister Kubota could tell that I needed it. Haha like one time when I was pounding down potato chips saying "make me stop! I'm stress eating!" and she suggested that we run the next morning. There's a small park next to our apartment with a round dirt path surrounding a grassy hill where we like to go. P.S. I'm in awful shape and get out of breath way too fast. Biking builds muscle but doesn't work your lungs so much.

We finally got around to buying Sister Cortes' bike this week, and she picked a really cute red one. For the first time I noticed how dirty and beat-up mine already looked after two months. We all named our bikes too - Sister Kubota's is The White Avenger, mine's the Black Cat, and Sister Cortes' Sakura chan (Japanese cherry blossoms). As you can see, we're super creative and didn't just pick names to go along with the bikes' colors.

Sister Kubota's been encouraging me to lead whenever we go anywhere on bikes, to help me practice remembering directions, and I've been struggling. My inability to navigate is even worse here (no street signs! How is anyone supposed to find anything?) and the thought of being senior companion terrifies me. Our phone has a GPS but it's all in Japanese characters, so not super helpful. I really have no idea what's going to happen next transfer - me leaving, Sister Kubota leaving, or all three of us staying. I'm trying not to think about it.

Also I'm still a freak here - people stare at me everywhere we go. Today was a good morning because BOTH people I said konnichiwa to while biking past said it back! Usually I get blank stares. And it's not because people are rude - Sister Kubota always gets konnichiwas back when she says it - it's because they're shocked to hear it from me. It'll be nice when I go back to school to get lost in a sea of tall white people.

Kyotsukette, ne! (take care)

- Anna

Monday, October 7, 2013

time flies

Mina sannn!

This week was probably the busiest yet. The biggest thing that happened was that our new companion, Sister Cortes, came! She's from around Mexico City. It's been fun watching her react to everything and remembering when I was the same way... a few weeks ago. Time goes by so fast I'm nostalgic already. It's been pretty easy adjusting to living with three people instead of two, but we're definitely in need of more closet space. When we cook we make a little more, and Sister Kubota showers at night now, but no huge changes. We had to rearrange our two desks into an L-shape thing to accommodate three people.

We had a full evening planned for the day we got back from Tokyo to pick Sister Cortes up. Poor thing had to teach a lesson in Spanish after being here for like an hour, then we didn't have time for dinner, then we went to Eikaiwa. Oh and she'd never ridden a bike before, so she got to try that out on a borrowed bike, in the dark, in Japan. She's been a trooper.

It's been a huge miracle to finally be able to communicate in Spanish. We have lots of new investigators already, and have taught two lessons to a Peruvian family who lives near the church. It's funny watching them learn together because the mom has a Christian background, but the husband doesn't really know anything about religion, which sometimes shocks her. When we asked him if he knew who prophets were and he said no, her eyes got huge and she shrieked, "no sei que es una profeta?!" Or something like that. I can sort of understand some of what they say, but Sister Cortes translates for us. But they're super nice, and have two really cute kids. And the dad is a chef, so we got to try some yummy Peruvian food last time we went over!

Hopefully someday we'll get to the point where we can all contribute equally in the lessons. Right now Sister Kubota does most of the teaching in Japanese and Sister Cortes does almost all of it in Spanish. I actually have my first lesson in French scheduled for tonight, with Patrique, the man we met from Congo. I'm a little scared - we never learned religious vocabulary in high school!

This week has been a great one for Oyama. We've been busy busy busy with all the new people to teach, and the Elders here set TWO baptismal dates this week! Both of them are young boys - one in high school and one in college - and they're both way cool and way nice. I'm so excited. Hopefully we'll get to see similar miracles soon! Aki really wants to be baptized and is working hard to find a new job so she can be independent and make some needed life changes. She has such an amazing desire to learn and be a better person, and I want so badly for her to feel the happiness she deserves.

We went to a cool sushi restaurant for lunch today - the kind where everything comes around on a revolving belt and you just take whichever plates you want. It was way fun, and most of it yummy - but I finally tried the infamous nato that all the Japanese returned missionaries talk about! It's fermented soybean goop and just as disgusting as promised. But besides that, oishii!

Since we had technical difficulties last night (technology hates me) I'm finishing my email now Tuesday morning, after yesterday's lessons. I taught Patrique in French. It was awesome! Sometimes between Sister Kubota's Japanese and Sister Cortes' Spanish lessons I feel a little useless, so it was nice to finally contribute. That wasn't the best part though. The best part was seeing him learn and understand, and hearing him say "I want to know more so I can decide if this path is right for me." Yay!

I'm sending a picture of me with my (short) companions, and one at the sushi restaurant. I apologize for the latter - being a missionary has changed me in some ways, but I'm still not photogenic.


Love, Anna

New companion Cortes Shimai (from Mexico City), Anna and Kubota Shimai

Anna eating sushi - Yum!!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Oyama update

Hello! I can't believe another p-day is almost over... time goes by so fast here it's scary. I'll have wrinkles by the time I come home.

News! Our third companion is finally coming, so we'll take the train to Tokyo on Wednesday to pick her up. Yay! Now we have to rearrange our beds and figure out how to best share two desks.

Today Sister Kubota and I went to the community center Japanese class again, which was fun - we've developed a fun group of friends there, and we all went out to lunch afterwards. Our friend from Thailand is back, so we got to talk to her again and eat some treats she brought back with her! I also finally got a haircut to fix the hack job I got in the MTC. Warning to all future missionaries: it's tempting to take advantage of the free MTC barber shop, but know that they value quantity over quality. Ten minutes is not enough for a decent women's haircut.

Last week was busy - on Wednesday we had our first district meeting of the transfer, so I got to meet the four new missionaries in our district! Thirteen new missionary apartments opened this transfer, and more and more new missionaries keep coming. It's awesome. But it also means experienced missionaries are becoming scarce - it's not uncommon for people to start training after only being here 3 months (less time if you're native Japanese). Scary.

On Thursday we had a really, really good lesson with K. She had a previous baptismal date but cancelled it just before I got to Oyama, so we've been very careful about not putting too much pressure on her. Still, we wanted to help her progress, so we'd been praying all week to know what to do. Then, after our lesson, she finally opened up to us about all of her concerns and why she'd cancelled before. It was a miracle for us because now we finally know exactly what she needs and wants to learn.

Everyone is different, which is why it's so important for us to really get to know the people we teach and love them and gain their trust. Teaching is a two-way thing - we can't drag anyone towards understanding. They have to work with us and be willing to meet halfway. We like to refer to ourselves as "guides" - our job is to teach people what we know, and help them know how to find out for themselves if our message is true - not to debate and "convince" people to be baptized. It is ultimately up to them what they decide to do.

Friday was a little rough. We biked for an hour and ten minutes to get to someone's house - we'd never met her before, but I guess she joined the church as a teenager and hasn't come in years. Anyway, after the long ride and asking a few neighbors we finally found the house - and she stared at us for about five seconds before shutting the door again as Sister Kubota was mid-sentence. I have to admit I didn't have a very Christlike attitude and sort of grumbled under my breath when Sister Kubota suggested we say a prayer for the door shutter, bless her heart. But on our way back home we met a young mother of two who accepted a Book of Mormon from us and said we could come back and teach her family! So the day ended up being a success.

Friday morning we also visited a very sweet obaachan [grandma?] who loves nature and music, so we sang "For the Beauty of the Earth" as she showed us her garden and gave us a bouquet to take home. We took some glamour shots with it, which I'll attach.

Saturday we taught some good lessons and had lunch at a lady in our ward's house, which was really fun. She's very funny and talkative and told us her conversion story - I guess her dad felt bad for the missionaries for some reason, so he told her to go and take lessons from them, even though they were devout members of another church. So she started meeting with the missionaries out of pity, but eventually realized what they were teaching was true! Ha ha I guess it doesn't matter how you get there.

I had a really embarrassing moment after lunch though - since we were sitting on the floor, one of my legs fell completely asleep. I underestimated just how numb it was though, and put all my weight on it as I stood up, which made me completely fall over, arms pinwheeling and everything. It was a miracle nothing broke. Easily the least graceful thing I've ever done, and coming from me, that means a lot! Yikes.

Church yesterday was awesome - so many people came that there wasn't enough room in the chapel! That's the kind of "problem" we love to have.

Now that the horribly humid summer is ending, I get to enjoy Fall. Biking is more enjoyable, and we often pull over to take pictures of the landscape or sunsets. I'll attach one from a few days ago.

Hope everyone is well!

Love, Anna

Bouquet from obaachan's garden

Oyama landscape

Monday, September 23, 2013

another week goes by

Greetings, mina san.

This week had its ups and downs, but flew by, just like all the others. I feel like I wrote my last email only a few days ago. Still no new companion - hope she comes soon!

I started the week with splits (companion exchanges) so I was in Utsunomiya on Tuesday. It's a lot busier than Oyama, so we talked to LOTS of people. It was fun to see some more of Japan - and cats! There were so many cats in the streets. Awesome. Unfortunately while I was gone someone stole my bike light - kind of random. I guess this country isn't perfect after all. I'm actually kind of impressed they managed to get it off the bike - I've tried to move that thing before, and it was impossible.

On Wednesday some members took us to the Japanese version of Sears so we could get a futon for our new companion. Everything's all set and ready to go! I also taught Eikaiwa, which continues to get bigger and better. We always play a game at the end with everyone, and people get really into it.

Thursday was awesome - one of the men in our ward's mom used to take the missionary lessons, and we've been trying to set an appointment with her for about a month now. She unexpectedly emailed us in the morning with a question about the Book of Mormon so we called her back and said, "are you home? We can answer in person, right now!" So we quickly biked over and got to finally teach her and set up another appointment. Yay! She's very kind and fun to talk to. We kept seeing miracles all day when we ran into three other people we'd been trying to contact while on our bikes or at the station. They can't avoid us when we're face-to-face! Haha. So that was way awesome. I've never had a feeling like "hmmm, I think the Spirit is telling me to go down that street now" - all of the run-ins happened by "chance". As long as we keep doing all we can, we're guided to where we need to go and everything works out.

Early Friday morning, maybe around 3am, I was woken up by my first-ever earthquake. To be completely honest I was pretty scared - it wasn't the most peaceful way to be woken up. I think it was only about a 3.0 in Oyama, though. So all is well.

We met lots of new people over the weekend. Sister Kubota said some of them had a "funny vibe," which of course I didn't pick up on. I think everyone here is funny. Because I'm not super familiar with Japanese mannerisms yet, it's harder for me to tell if someone is drunk, mentally handicapped, or just a character. I also don't always pick up on emotions or hints. Yikes. Let's hope I learn to be less oblivious soon.

Sunday started out really well - Aki came to church for the first time with her friend, and said she really liked it. And I was able to understand some of what the first speaker was saying! It probably helped that he was 12. I couldn't understand a single word of the other talks. We had a full schedule of appointments planned for after church, all of whom cancelled on us. So it was a long afternoon of knocking on doors. I was pretty spent when I came home, and chose to ease my pain by eating a huge bag of potato chips, which I usually don't even like. I have a problem.

Sister missionary weight gain update: I've gained one or two kilos since entering the MTC, but it's been pretty constant lately. So maybe my body's found its happy place and it'll stay that way? Let's hope.

Thank you for all your good news from home, I hope everyone is well!
Love, Anna