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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Greetings from.... Oyama!

Transfer calls were this morning! Both Sister Kubota and I are staying in Oyama, and we're getting a third companion! So I guess I'll be co-training. She's having some visa problems so we don't know when exactly she'll get here, but I'm way excited! We'll have to go buy another futon soon.

This week was a little slower than last, teaching-wise, but our golden investigator Aki continues to progress. We had a church member help us with our last lesson, which was awesome, because she's very bold and has no problem saying stuff like "you should quit your job so you can find one that lets you come to church on Sunday." We aren't allowed to give any kind of career advice, so that was a huge help. Yay for this awesome ward!

The whole ward came together this weekend to set up the church for a wedding reception that was held today. The entire first floor was covered in pink flowers, ribbons, everything - and the bride had a perfect Disney Princess dress. It was every girl's fantasy. Sister Kubota was so funny, and kept half-jokingly saying "we can't stay here too long, it'll make us want to get married!"

Friday the 13th ended up being a scary morning when Sister Kubota and I got separated at an intersection and couldn't find each other for a while. I went to the church to use the phone to call her on our cell, but realized I didn't have a key - luckily, our district leader showed up a few seconds later, on the phone with a frantic Sister Kubota. It ended up being not a huge deal, but our district leader kept laughing and saying "I never though I'd get THAT call!"

Friday evening, we went over to an "eternigator's" (someone who's been taking lessons for years, but never gotten baptized) house for dinner. We made homemade soba noodles from scratch - it was way cool! They rolled out the dough on a huge wooden board with a giant rolling pin, then folded it all up and used a special knife to slice super-thin noodles. The noodles that Sister Kubota and I cut were like 3X as fat as the others - it was hard!

This weekend everything's been on standby because of a huge typhoon that's all over Japan right now. Luckily it didn't hit Oyama, but we still had to cancel a lot of plans just in case. There have been deaths, injuries, and destruction all over Japan because of it, and I hope it ends soon. I heard the last time this typhoon happened was 40 years ago.

Obligatory scary-animal missionary story: I ran over a HUGE snake with my bike a few days ago. No matter what kind of snake - big, small, poisonous, harmless - they are still one of my biggest fears. I tried not to make a scene but let's be honest, it was out of my control - I was shrieking all the way down the street. All of the people outside were staring at the huge screaming white girl on a bike. I had to pull over afterwards to let my heart rate go back down, and broke into relieved laughter. I can do cockroaches, and don't even get too scared about killer bees, but snakes are another story.

Sister Kubota and I went shopping today, and I managed to get clothes that fit! Japanese people are tiny but they like loose clothes, so it works out. And I guess maxi skirts are in style right now, so I found some that cover my knees. Shoes, unfortunately, are another story. Maybe I'll follow the pioneers' example and pray every night that mine don't wear out, because I sure can't buy any replacements here. Maybe crocs would fit - but I still have my pride for now.

Fun fact about Oyama: the current popular hairstyle for young rebellious teenage boys is a mullet, sometimes with bleached ends.

Sister Kubota and I have been very sister-missionary-ish lately and have been baking treats to take to people, sometimes accompanied by a pretty handmade card. She's really good at origami too, so we'll fold up notes into cool shapes. Right now I'm baking a clafoutis for district meeting because two of the elders in our district have birthdays this week.

Speaking of our district, it grew a lot this transfer! 50 new missionary apartments opened this transfer, opening new areas and expanding existing ones. Very exciting. I can't wait to see how much the mission changes by the time I leave!

Much love,

Anna and Kubota Shimai making soba noodles

Eating the soba noodles

Anna's reaction to the news her cousin David is engaged to Taylor:  "Yay!! Too bad I'll be gone for the wedding, but they're a beautiful couple. Tell them congrats for me!"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

temple day!


I don't have much time to email today because we've been out shopping and on the train since 5:30 this morning, when we went to Tokyo to go to the temple!! The ride was about and hour and a half. Almost all of the missionaries were there, and it was great seeing everyone from my old district again. The Tokyo temple doesn't have any grounds - it's literally right in the middle of the city. So cool. Afterwards I went with a bunch of girls to eat sukiyaki at a nice restaurant - yum.

Friday marked the one-month anniversary of my arrival in Japan. Time seems to have flown by! I'm already over 1/6 done, but I feel like I just got here and haven't really done anything yet. We've been super busy lately, spending more time teaching and less time trying to find people, which is awesome. I know the classic image of missionaries is walking down the street knocking on doors, but it's easily the least effective method of finding and teaching people who are interested.

I tried lots of cool new foods this week, including takoyaki (octopus in fried dough). It was pretty good... really you can't go wrong when you wrap something in dough and deep-fry it. I took a picture of Sister Kubota holding some of the octopus. I really ate that! I also ate okonomiyaki, or cabbage pancakes. Easily one of my favorite foods so far. It's just cabbage, plus whatever other vegetables or seafood you want, cooked in pancake-like batter and topped with a special sauce, plus seaweed and fish flakes. Sounds weird, but trust me on this.

We also continued to use all kind of languages. We got to teach a lesson to L, from Peru, and found a video to watch with her in Spanish. She's very sweet and I love teaching her. We also helped the man from Congo translate some immigration documents from French into Japanese, and talked a little about different belief systems. He's Muslim but very open-minded and likes learning about others' faiths. He even shared some French Christian hymns from Congo, and said he wanted to bring three of his friends to Eikaiwa!

Now for the miracle of the week: We got a call on Tuesday saying that there were two women at the church looking for us. Usually nobody's there on Tuesday, but President Budge happened to be in Oyama that day doing interviews for our zone. So we rushed over and met a woman that we'd talked to for literally 45 seconds at the train station. I guess she'd gone home and looked up after we gave her a flyer, and loved what she read. SHE came and found US. You have no idea how rare that is. So we taught her and her friend about the restoration of the gospel, and she was so, so excited. When we pulled a copy of the Book of Mormon out of our bag, she stretched her hands forward and said "I want to read it!!"

The next night, the woman (I'll call her Aki) emailed us and asked if she could be baptized. Sister Kubota shrieked with joy when she saw it - this is literally every missionary's fantasy. We met with her again yesterday, and it's going to take a while before she can get baptized. She has to make a lot of big life changes. But she wants to change and is ready to change - she said she'd known for a long time she wasn't living how she was supposed to, and she feels it's destiny that we met. She just needed something to give her a push to start to make changes. I'm so, so happy we were able to find her. I truly feel like we were meant to, and even though it'll be a long road, I can see her in the future, happy and living like she wants to.

I'm loving Japan! Thank you for all your support!
Love, Anna

Octopus to be made into takoyaki

Anna and Kubota Shimai in front of Tokyo temple

Monday, September 2, 2013

another Oyama update

Hello hello hello! Everything's pretty much the same here in Oyama - humid as ever, with lots of good times and some hard times. My Japanese is getting much better but I still have miles to go. And I kick myself every day for not taking Spanish in high school!

I did my first companion split on Tuesday with Sister Vail, the Sister Training Leader. She's awesome and we had a really good time teaching people and getting lost (since with Sister Kubota gone, I was in charge of directions). But Sister Vail loves taking opportunities to talk to everybody, so every time we stopped to ask for directions (a lot) we'd talk about the church too. I guess there's a silver lining to everything, including my severe handicap when it comes to using maps.

We used lots of different languages this week. We gave a Thai Book of Mormon to S. for her to read before she goes to Thailand for a month, plus met a lot more people from either Peru or Brazil. I also finally got to use my French when I met a man from Congo at the train station! My French is awful now, by the way. It make out half-Japanese and made no sense, plus I kept forgetting really easy words like "Wednesday."

This week was super hot. Even being on the bike for ten minutes makes me feel like I'm dying. We visited a lady on Friday who's been a sort-of investigator for around ten years. She reads the Book of Mormon at home, and says she loves and prays for missionaries, but has never wanted to join the church. Funny. And she really does love missionaries - she let us in her house and gave us tea before even asking our names. Just seeing the name tags was enough. And she was listening to Adele when we came in! It's crazy how much joy I get from hearing 20 seconds of an American song playing somewhere.

Speaking of America, I saw a newspaper today with a picture of Obama on it. We're not really supposed to read newspapers, but Sister Kubota said the headline said something about attacking Syria. Please, someone let me know if we go to war! I have absolutely no idea what's going on at home.

On Saturday, after dendo-ing in the afternoon we went over to a member's house for dinner and met the cutest 4-year-old Japanese boy ever. He kept running back to his room and returning with more toys to show us - a Spongebob game, Transformers figurine, Thomas the Tank Engine -there was even a Buzz Lightyear steering wheel that spoke in Japanese. It seems like kids here like a lot of American cartoons, but they also have their own. The most famous one is AnPan Man, who's head is made of anpan, a bun filled with sweet bean paste. It's way good. Anyways, Sister Kubota was telling me about Anpan Man - I guess his big thing is that he tears off a piece of his face to give to people when they're hungry. I thought it was super weird, but then I remembered that our most popular cartoon character is a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. I guess cartoons are weird everywhere.

Another interesting thing about Japan is that all of the students wear uniforms - there's a few different kinds, depending on the school. Some high school girls wear plaid skirts and white collared shirts, and there's also a few sailor-like outfits. All of them seem very Western to me.

Yesterday was kind of an adventure. We went over to teach one of the new people we met from Peru, but of course she forgot our appointment. But then just as we were about to leave, it starting POURING. Thunder, lightning, everything. And obviously we didn't have coats with us. We tried to knock on a few doors and make calls under the shelter of the apartment complex, but eventually it became clear that the rain wasn't about to stop anytime soon, and we had places to be. So Sister Kubota knocked on a random door and said something like, "Hello! We're missionaries, and it's raining, so um... can we borrow an umbrella?" The lady seemed kind of surprised, but then she came out and gave us each umbrellas! We asked if we could come back the next day to return them and teach her about our church, and she said yes! Miracles every day.

So after that, we ditched our bikes at the apartment and waded through the street-turned-river (this place doesn't have the best water drainage system), trying to protect ourselves as best we could with the small umbrellas. The water was past my ankles - not exactly how I pictured myself working in the most modern city in the world. But it was kind of funny. We baked some cake that night to bring as a thank-you. And to think we never would have met without the storm... God has a sense of humor sometimes.

Hope everyone's doing well!
Love, Anna

MacArthur Shimai in Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan

Anna's response in a separate email to Kathy's question "How are you feeling about being there in Japan?  on a mission?":   I'm thrilled to be on a mission. It's a little hard sometimes when my expectations aren't the same as reality, but if I take the time I can see miracles happening every day. I knew beforehand that this wouldn't be a mission with sky-high numbers, but I still try to believe it CAN be.