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.