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

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