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

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