Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hey!!

Wow...

Can you believe this is my last letter home as a missionary? I can't. People ask me sometimes if it "feels real yet" and the answer is always no. I don't think I will ever feel like I'm home until I see you all at the airport.

Although, I have slowly come to terms with the fact that I'm leaving. This week was filled with sooo many goodbyes - last lessons, last church talk, last Eikaiwa, going out to eat for the last time. Too much food. I never want to eat again. And the Japanese people really outdid themselves by proving their gift-giving reputation to be very true. I've been showered with presents all week, many of which were really surprising and touching. I swear you never know how much you mean to people until you leave.

I haven't really imagined what it will be like not to be a missionary anymore - waking up in the morning and not putting on my badge, not feeling a weird pressure to talk to every person I sit/stand next to, not biking for a hundred miles from place to place every day. I hope I will find a happy medium of accepting that my mission is over, and it's time to move on, yet still applying to my life everything that I learned out here and hopefully keeping up some of the good habits I've made. One thing I've been working on is living for the present, not the past or future. Missionaries who count the days until they go home are sad missionaries, and RMs who do nothing but think about those best two years in the past are also unhappy. This life is so short, and it's made shorter by wasting our time not being happy right where we are.

That doesn't mean I'm not excited to see you. But I want to enjoy my time left here too! Tomorrow I will go to Tokyo and become companions with Yamauchi Shimai again. We'll have all day Thursday to work together in Tokyo (hopefully meeting up with some Senzokuike friends!) and then go back to the mission home for a dinner/testimony meeting with all the returning missionaries.

Love you all so much!! This will be the best Christmas ever. I have only two requests for  when I come home: 1) no one comment on how chubby my face has gotten, and 2) it'd be nice if there was a new kitten waiting for me at home.

Love, love, love, Anna

Having fun a few weeks ago in Shibuya

Cutting open a dragonfruit

Reeder Shimai and Anna at a farewell meal

Anna, Reeder Shimai, and lots of friends at another farewell meal

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winter Has Arrived

Helloooo everybody!

Another busy week. And a COLD one. I was reminded of my Niigata days of putting hot hands inside our wool socks inside our insulated boots. For some reason the drug stores here think it's too early to start selling heat packs, and we had a very freezing weekend full of numb feet.

It must be election season or something in Japan, because everywhere we go there are these big vans with posters on the sides and loudspeakers on the top, proclaiming how great a certain politician is. One of the vans parked right outside our window at like 7:45 on Sunday morning and was LOUD. Seems like a good way to get people to not want to vote for you. For such a reserved people, the Japanese have some very in-your-face advertising methods.

I've actually been doing some reflecting lately on what lessons I've learned from being in Japan. Things I've learned from being a missionary are endless, but there are a few that come uniquely from the funny, beautiful culture here. I'll list a few:

1) A little compliment goes a long way. The Japanese adore giving and receiving compliments, something that I'm not very good at. You'd be surprised how happy you can make someone just by telling them how well they do something.

2) It is good to have reverence for things. Japanese people are much more careful with their possessions than we are, and I hope to be better at not carelessly tossing my coat or phone on the ground when I get home. They're also much more mindful of garbage.

3) It's a REALLY good idea to take off your shoes before entering a house. Everyone hates vacuuming.

4) We could all do a little better at dressing more nicely. Maybe it's just because I'm used to west coast grunge, but I feel like everyone here looks more professional than at home. Very rare to see someone walking around in pajamas, or trashy outfits.

5) The more you know about something, the more you can love it. The longer I'm here, the more tiny pieces are added to my puzzle of understanding and I'm slowly able to more fully accept the culture and customs. Things that used to seem weird start to make sense and even be beautiful. Japan will forever have a special place in my heart, and I hope to continue to learn about it even after I go home. Guess Dad assured that would happen by signing me up for a kanji class.

Number five goes for anything, really. We're told in the scriptures that eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3) because we cannot love them until we know them. People tell me all the time it's hard to pray, because they don't know who God is. We have to come to know Him, by reading His words in the scriptures, and keeping His commandments, and then love will grow in our heart. We'll slowly come to understand and appreciate His ways, just as children learn to appreciate their parents after they move out of the house and grow up a little.

That's really the only thing we do as missionaries - help people come to know God and Jesus Christ. We can't have spiritual experiences for someone else, or control their actions. Any person on the street is just as capable as I am of strengthening their own faith. The only thing I have that they don't yet is knowledge of the Restored Gospel, and it is my job to help them know. After they know, they can believe, and love.

I love all of YOU! Merry early Christmas
Anna

PS Na is having doubts about baptism, and we're not really sure what's up. Please pray that she'll be able to overcome her fears.

Sister Reeder attempts to fillet fish from the grocery store

Sisters Chandler, Jones, Reeder & Anna in the center of Tokyo

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 1, 2014 (No Subject)

Hello everyone!

Another great week. I don't have much time so I'll just give a rundown -

Monday: Shopping. First trip to Mr. Donuts in months. Lunch and lesson with Ka Shimai at a member's house, which was so awesome. Ka Shimai has been struggling to come to church lately, and the answer was the same as it is in 99% of people's cases: love. When they feel love, they come.

Tuesday: Zone conference! Always great to hear from President Budge, and since this conference was our Christmas one we did some caroling together. I bore my "last testimony" with all the other returning missionaries, which was weird. It still doesn't feel like I'm going home. Since a few other elders were translating as well (conferences are held in English, and translated into Japanese for a few missionaries wearing mic headsets) I only had to do a short part, and luckily not for president Budge. He's a very animated speaker, with lots of quick little jokes, and I think he'd be hard to keep up with.

Wednesday: talked with our friend Eli, from France, at Japanese class. Showed the new "He is the Gift" Christmas video with one of our friends after Eikaiwa, which was a really sweet moment until one of the Elders' investigators came over and asked us a random question about where Santa Claus comes from. This man, A san, wants to get baptized and has been coming to church every week, and I really want to root for him and support him but he's kind of really crazy and sort of too obsessed with me and Sister Reeder. Maybe this is a test of my charity and patience.

Thursday: Delivered some mini sweet potato pies to investigators for Thanksgiving, and got to see Na (14-year-old) for the first time in a while. She is so awesome, and wants to be baptized in December! She isn't sure if her dad will give permission, so we'll have to meet him sometime. Scary. But Na is worth it - I don't even know why she has such a strong desire to learn more about Jesus Christ and follow His example. Obviously she'd been prepared to find the gospel lonnnnng before we got here.

Friday: Splits! I went to Togane to work with Sister Dopp, who I've been in the same zone with for a while but had never been on splits with before. We had a good time and I learned a lot from her. Every sister missionary has a different story on why they chose to serve a mission, and I love hearing everyone's stories.

Saturday: best day ever! Lots of good things happened, but the most awesome was our Thanksgiving potluck party. We thought of having a dinner party a while ago, mostly as a way to get the Wats to interact with some more members, and we're thinking maybe three or four couples, plus us. But when we told our ward mission leader about it, it became this huge ward activity and there were TONS of people and food! Lots of Eikaiwa students came and became good friends with the members there. Even members who couldn't make it came to drop off food, it was so sweet. One lady even spent 4+ hours cooking a Costco turkey with stuffing. So, I'm 2 for 2 with having a real Thanksgiving in Japan!! Definitely something to be grateful for. Sister Reeder was a champ and helped me make pies during basically every lunch and dinner hour all week, so we totaled with 1 pumpkin pie (made with real pumpkin, because we couldn't find canned) and 4 sweet potato pies (2 recipes worth, made mini sized). They were all delicious.

Sunday: got to watch the primary program! Our ward has a total of three primary-aged children, so they all had lots of lines. Visited people all afternoon. Ate Thanksgiving leftovers.

Monday: brought Su a cake for her birthday. Visited investigators. Spread Christmas cheer since it's officially the season.

Tuesday: went to the temple! I originally thought last time would be the final one, so it was nice getting to go again. Afterwards all the sisters had a clothing exchange, and we went to get Indo curry with Sisters Jones and Chandler. Also took a bunch of funny pictures. We showed two girls the He is the Gift video on the train home - just look for people using headphones and ask them to plug them into your iPad! It was cool. Great video.

Pictures! Part of our Thanksgiving crowd, and Sister Reeder and I in Shibuya.

Thanksgiving potluck at Chosei Ward building

Anna & Reeder Shimai in Shibuya after Anna's final Tokyo Temple trip


Monday, November 24, 2014

Update

Can't believe another week has come and gone. Someone told me that they heard that even after a mission, time continues to go faster and faster, but I sincerely hope they're wrong and it'll slow down a little when I'm home. At this rate I'll have grandchildren by next week.

One scary thing about time passing by so fast is me wanting so badly to see one last, amazing Christmas miracle before I go home. At our last zone meeting, we talked a lot about focusing on "the one", and made a goal of each missionary helping one of their friends be able to get ready for baptism by Christmas. Sister Reeder and I were a little worried because even though we always have plenty of people to teach, nobody really stood out as that "one" who was ready. We want so badly to use our time well and follow God's will, so we decided to fast together in order to know who she should focus on. We saw an amazing miracle that day when we ran into Yu, a 15-year-old girl we'd previously met at the eki and become friends with on Facebook. She saw the Book of Mormon Sister Reeder was carrying and said, "you have one of those? So do we. My mom got it from a friend and reads it." We have no idea who the friend is, but are so excited to meet Yu's family and talk about it with them! We were actually supposed to meet them all on Thursday, but they cancelled because of the rain. Hopefully that will get rescheduled for this week!

Another cool moment happened when Sister Reeder and I were discussing how we wanted to try to teach Tomi, the unbaptized daughter of a less-active member. We've ran into her a few times lately, and she is very kind and has fond memories of going to church when she was younger. I remembered that a few months ago, I was convinced that my two focus people were Tomi (mother of 2) and Yu (mother of 4), and was so disappointed when they told us they didn't really have time/interest for church right now. I couldn't figure out why Heavenly Father would let me be SO sure it was them. But then I realized that now, our two new focus people have the same names - Tomi and Yu. But they're students instead of moms. I still don't know God's plan, but maybe He just wanted me to remember those names so that I could recognize their significance later.

And so, again I was humbled and learned that when I think I have things figured out I usually don't. Every major life decision I've made in the last few years has been different than my former "set-in-stone plan." Who knows what I'll even be doing in a few years?

The weather has fluctuated the past few days, but we did have one really rainy, cold day. Actually that was the day that Yu cancelled... I will never understand why people think they're doing us a favor by canceling for bad weather. Thanks a lot, now I'll be knocking on doors in the downpour. Actually that's exactly what we did, and poor Sister Reeder's hands were so numb that she couldn't feel this one doorbell. Thinking she kept missing it, she rang it at least ten times, and the look on the people's faces when they came outside was priceless. Actually we could see through a window later that their daughter was studying the flyer pretty intently. Wouldn't that be sweet if they came to church after that? It'd be a hilarious conversion story.

I got a pretty scary phone call yesterday from one of the assistants, asking me to translate during tomorrow's zone conference. I've never translated before and am beyond nervous. I don't know who's bright idea it was to nominate me, but I would like to ask for any and all prayers. I tried to practice a few times today, watching conference talk videos in English and muttering what I thought they would be in Japanese, and it was a royal disaster.

Love you all! Have a very happy Thanksgiving, and I hope I can show you pictures of the delicious holiday pies we make this week. We bought lots of flower, shortening, nutmeg and other supplies at the grocery store today in preparation.

No new pics this week. Enjoy some throwbacks - this is Tomi (dyed hair) with her mom and a friend at the Halloween party.

Anna and Jones Shimai with Yu, Yu's mom and a friend at Halloween

Reeder Shimai and Anna

Monday, November 17, 2014

I'm back

Hello!

Another crazy week. We had highs, and lows, but overall a week full of love and goodness. On Friday, we were in the middle of a lesson when we got the very sad news that our bishop had passed away from a heart attack. It was very sudden and unexpected, and hard for the family he left behind. But friends and church members, both active and inactive, came from all over to support the family and pay their respects at the funeral service we had today. It was a very good atmosphere... As most funerals are, actually. I've been to quite a few in the last few years, in churches of different faiths, but they are all similar in that they focus on the positive and the hopeful. I know Bishop's wife misses him terribly, but she has found so much comfort in the fact that their marriage is forever, and she will see him again.

As a strange coincidence/not coincidence, when we got the news we were in the middle of teaching Su san about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. How it can heal us, and make right everything that isn't fair in this life. She's still pretty stubborn and I don't know how much of it she believed, but I was overcome with gratitude for my Savior as I promised her that because Christ suffered for her sins, and gave His life, she could one day be resurrected and perfected so that she could live with her Heavenly Father. Some people say that religion was created by man in order to comfort us in times of sorrow, but I say that no human who ever lived could ever be capable of inventing something so perfect and beautiful as the Atonement.

On a less serious note, we did some pretty cool things this week. An Eikaiwa student invited us to the "Mobara International Friends" party, which was really fun and a great opportunity to meet people. There weren't that many foreigners there except for a ton of filipinas, but there were tons of Japanese moms who like gaijin and want their kids to learn English. We barely had to approach anyone, because they all approached us! "Where are you from? What are you doing in Japan? Do you teach English? Will you take a picture with my children?" It was awesome. I guess not everybody was charmed by us though - one lady from Jamaica took one look at our badges, rolled her eyes and said "ohhh, you're Mormons!" So sassy. It was funny. She actually apologized later, and was really nice.

One small, random blessing this week: it has been getting harder and harder to ride my bike this last month, and rides that used to be easy left me out of breath. I was way worried that I wasn't getting enough protein, or was sick somehow, or just getting weaker - but then I had the bright idea to check my back tire, which was super flat. Sometimes the answer is so simple. So biking isn't quite as excruciating anymore!

We also had the really great opportunity to go out to lunch today with the Isas, some family friends of Sister Reeder's. Her family used to live in Japan when her dad was in the Air Force, and they've kept in touch with the Isas, who have been waiting to see her ever since they heard she got called to the Tokyo mission. They used to be mission presidents of the Hiroshima mission a few years ago, and had really good advice and stories for us. I never fail to be impressed with the members here in Japan - their courage, and faith, and examples.

Love you all! Here's a picture of a folk dance from the Philippines. Until next week!
Anna


Fillpinas folk dancing at the Mobara International Friends party


Monday, November 10, 2014

Hello!

Hello! Wow, what a crazy week. Transfer weeks always are. So many goodbyes to be said, and then introductions, and rushing around trying to do a million things at once. I know you're all wondering about my new companion, so I'll give a brief Sister Reeder intro. She's 20, went to BYU, from Utah (first companion from Utah! Crazy) and on transfer 4. And I love her. So smiley, and fun, and a great attitude about everything. I know this last transfer is going to be awesome.

One of the coolest goodbyes: We went to the Wats' house (funny Eikaiwa couple) for dinner, and it is probably the coolest and most Japanese house I've ever been in. They are both retired and have a million hobbies. We got to try out their huge taiko drum, and koto (the long stringed instrument) and, best of all, they've both been reading the Book of Mormon! It was cool to hear them talk about "Smith san" (Joseph Smith). Dinner was also delicious and I've never been so full in my life.

The place we met other missionaries for transfers was 2 hours by train each way, so Thursday was mostly a day of talking to people on the train. Sister Jones and I met a funny lady who was on her way to a hot spring, and seemed shocked (like everyone else here) that we can't go to them. I just can't ever imagine wanting to chill naked with my whole family in an outdoor hot tub.

Thursday night we had our monthly music night, to which a lady came that Sister Jones met on splits. She brought two friends, and the trio performed a couple songs on guitar, harmonica, and Chinese violin. I've had a week very full of traditional Asian music. Fitting that last Monday was a national holiday celebrating culture!

Sister Reeder and I had a weird experience on Saturday when we met two women on their way to a festival, and they invited us to come along. We went with them, trying to see if we could start a conversation about church, and ended up at a very Buddhist gathering of what must be the only actively practicing Buddhists in all of Chiba prefecture. Each denomination was wearing a different color yukata top, almost like a jersey, and we were introduced to a Buddhist monk who spoke very good English. They wanted us to join their march, and we soon realized that no one there was going to want to learn about Jesus Christ so we made a speedy exit. But they were nice and we got free soup.

Sunday was also a great day! Su came to church, and so did our friends the Nagas. They always come to ping-pong night but recently have more interest in church. Today they took us to a kimono shop where we got to try on real silk kimonos and have a photo shoot! I think people normally aren't really allowed to do that without paying anything, but Jun (the wife) sort of sweet-talked her way into it. She just has that effect on people. By the time we left she was best friends with all the women working in the shop! Someday she'll make a great Relief Society president. It was a really fun day.

Lots of pictures, for once! Here's me trying to play the koto, Sister Jones with the Wats, music night trio, and our Chosei District photo shoot.

Love you!!
Anna

Anna tries to play the koto at the Wats' home

Jones shimai and the Wats after a delicious dinner

Trio at Chosei music night with Chinese violin, harmonica and guitar

Chosei district tries on kimonos and has a photo shoot

Anna and Reeder shimai try on kimonos

Monday, November 3, 2014

Transfer call results!

Transfer calls came. Like we thought, I'm staying. But we didn't see Sister Jones transferring! Interestingly, she'll be going to Oyama, and working with our old roommate Sister Chandler. I always wondered if I'd be sent back to Oyama for my last transfer. We were way shocked, especially since President Budge told me during interviews this week that he thought we'd both be staying. Never trust anyone! My new companion is Sister Reeder, who I've never met but seems nice.

One cool thing though - Sister Jones got a really strong impression to stand up and bear her testimony in church yesterday. She told me she felt like if she didn't, she'd regret it. A lot of members thanked her afterwards, and I know now that she's so happy she got that last chance. We were 99% sure at that time that neither of us were leaving, but it just goes to show that the Spirit knows things better than we do.

We've had a pretty crazy day and I don't have much time, so I'll make a list of good/interesting/weird things that happened to me this week.
  • Had dinner at a member's house, and got to hear their very funny how-they-converted and how-they-met stories. The husband was actually a raging alcoholic when he met the missionaries, and his life turned a complete 180. I guess he still likes nonalcoholic beer though, and he offered us some. I said no thanks just because it felt weird but he insisted somewhat forcefully that we taste it. Pretty pleasant, actually. Probably not what real beer tastes like but I have no way of knowing.
  • Went to our last District meeting of the transfer, and then District lunch afterwards at a member's really classy restaurant. To give you an idea of how fancy it was, we were offered warm, wet towels that smelled like eucalyptus oil when we walked in.
  • Taught the plan of salvation to one of our coolest investigators, Ka san. She listens so intently when we teach, asking questions to make sure she understands, and really applies the teachings. It's awesome to watch. She didn't even seem to phased when the member we had with us got into some reeeeally deep doctrine about the origin of Satan and the Second coming of Christ.
  • Got a phone call from this funny lady who we met a few weeks ago, telling us that she knows of a single man around our age and it might be a good "chance." This lady has zero interest in church but for some reason calls us/shows up at the church a few times a week just to say hi.
  • We finally got to meet Sho, a super sweet lady who the other sisters were teaching, and who we'd been unable to meet until now because we'd been knocking on the wrong apartment door this whole time. Oops. Better late than never!
  • Having Toya san come to church after a long time of not wanting contact with the missionaries. The only thing we did was come bring her homemade donuts on her birthday! Sometimes people just need a little love.
In other news, today is Culture Day in Japan so we went over to check out a free concert in the local community center. We watched a few numbers of people playing a koto, an old stringed Japanese instrument. The first act was pretty cool (see picture) but the second act was a little painful for my ears. Sister Jones and I couldn't tell if the group was messing up a lot, or if we just weren't accustomed to that type of music. But once the number was finished, we looked at our Eikaiwa friend who we were sitting next to and the look on her face told us everything. It was way funny.

Also one of the couples that come to Saturday Eikaiwa brought a Taiko drum to class, and I got to try it out. It's an action shot, so blurry.

Love you all! Can't wait to give an awesome update next week.
Anna

Koto concert at the Chosei Culture Day celebration

Ana tries taiko drumming at eikaiwa

Ru's step-mom was baptized in Senzokuike recently!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hello

Hello!

I think Dad may have asked about transfer calls... Those are coming next week, so in my next email I'll know where I'll spend the remainder of my days in Japan. Time flies!

We had a very cold week - actually used our heater for the first time, which took a while to figure out because all the buttons are in Japanese. Having technical difficulties in a country that doesn't use the alphabet is extremely mentally taxing. Anyway, we figured it out, and our apartment is nice and toasty. A perk of not having a Japanese roomate is that there's no one there to pester you about being more energy-efficient. I remember Kubota Shimai refusing to turn the AC any stronger than what she believed to be practical, no matter how much I complained that I was dying. On Wednesday it poured, and poured, and I was grateful for my crocs and rain pants and other clothing that I wouldn't be caught dead in in America.

Eikaiwa was fun, even though the lesson was on my least favorite topic - work. It's depressing sometimes to hear people talk about their jobs, and how little time they have off, and how boring they are. There's a family that comes to the Chosei Eikaiwa that's really similar to a family at the Senzokuike Eikaiwa, and they're both really funny. One angelic daughter, and two boys that fight and hit each other the whole time. Talking to kids is fun because they teach you childish slang Japanese.

Another funny event on Wednesday - there are persimmon trees everywhere here, seemingly belonging to no one, full of fruit that goes unharvested. Sister Jones and I were curious, so while we were jogging one morning we picked up a just-fallen persimmon that looked pretty good. Went home, cut it up, took a bite and almost vomited. It was like biting into an apple soaked in astringent. We asked one of our Jaykaiwa senseis about those trees, and I guess he was really concerned we were going to do something stupid because he brought us a ton of persimmons the next week.

We visited Suzy this week, a very kind lady who accepted a Book of Mormon from the missionaries a while ago despite not having much interest in religion. She was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and has been undergoing treatment, but seems so very content and at peace with her fate. I half admire her courage, and half want to help her realize that she doesn't have to settle for believing she'll soon become nothing. It's hard to get someone to hope for an afterlife, when they have chosen to be content without one!

About a month ago we met a lady while housing, then returned a while later and gave her a Book of Mormon. This week we went back again to follow-up on if she'd read any, and turns out she'd finished almost a third of it! We were way excited until she insisted on giving it back to us, saying she just couldn't accept that Nephi was commanded to kill Laban in chapter 3. I'd been told in the MTC that a lot of people had problems with this, but I never really believed that it would be such a big deal. Japanese people love Disney more than anyone, and in practically every Disney movie, the bad guy dies at the end. It's just how it has to be, in order for everyone else to be happy, and no one ever seems to object. Laban is quite obviously the bad guy in this story, with Nephi being the hero, and it always made perfect sense to me as a child that Nephi would have to kill him. Actually, I remember being confused why Nephi was so hesitant to do it. But I have met many people here who start to read the Book of Mormon and get very disturbed at that part. Maybe it's put near the beginning of the book to root out weaklings, I don't know.

The Halloween party was awesome! Tons of our investigators and Eikaiwa students came, and other people who we didn't know too. I'm looking forward to seeing them again when we hand-deliver all the photos we took with party-goers in the costume photo booth. The church was completely decorated on both floors, and looked great. I'm kind of sad all the spooky things are gone, and it's not even Halloween yet.

Unrelated note - I noticed mom continues to wear my clothes in pictures. Does Luke still sleep in my bed?

Our friend Na came to the Halloween party with a friend, and brought that same friend to church with her the next day! We only have two young women in the Chosei ward, but they're awesome and did a great job being friends to Na and Mani. The four of them talked a lot about school uniforms, and manga, and all kinds of other stuff that we knew nothing about. After church they stayed to make takoyaki (deep-fried octopus in batter) and had fun at that too. Na had been kind of nervous to come to the church before that, so I'm really glad that she could see it as a fun place with normal people. Lots of people here have only ever seen church on TV - big cathedral, fancy wedding ceremony - and think that they can't come in if they aren't Christian. I always laugh when people ask, "is it really okay if I come to church?" Yes, it's okay. I left home and family and friends and school for a year and a half in order to BEG you to come to church. It's okay if you do.

Love you! Have an awesome week!
Anna

Anna & Jones shimai running the photo booth for the Chosei Ward Haloween party

Jones shimai and children at the Chosei Ward Haloween party

Anna and the young women of the Chosei Ward cooking and eating takoyaki (deep fried, breaded octopus) after church on Sunday

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hello!

Dear everybody,

Great week. We just got back from the Tokyo temple, and since it will be closed for cleaning next transfer this was officially my last time in it (... for a while, anyway). It is a beautiful place and I'll always remember my time there. Afterwards Sister Jones and I went shopping with Sisters Snow and Amituanai, then went for some sushi afterwards!

Before I talk about my week I want to share some amazing news that made me happier than anything else could. Ru, in Senzokuike, has been doing great and going to church every week. We were a little concerned before about if he'd be able to still keep going with no parental support, but it turns out that his dad has decided to come back to church after being less-active for over at least 20 years. Seeing the change in Ru has really softened his heart, and they've been going to church as a family every week. AND Ru's dad has also since married his girlfriend, who's been coming to church as well (and bringing her two little sons) and she is getting baptized in two weeks! Someday soon they can be sealed as a family. It's all such a beautiful miracle I can barely believe it's happening. This is why I came to Japan - to see things like this.

We're seeing miracles in Chosei, too. Remember the man who let us in when we knocked on his door, and gave us kiwi juice? We'd been unable to contact him since, but he showed up at church on Sunday, Book of Mormon in hand. He also met with the Elders today. Yay! I spoke in church that day actually, about the restoration, and it went okay despite me having almost no preparation time. Giving talks on the fly like I usually like to do just doesn't quite work in Japanese. Also on Sunday we got to pass out flyers at the train station for our Halloween party, and members came with us. It was way fun watching them chase people down like we usually do.

I also got to go on splits in Togane with Sister Willden from my MTC district, so that was fun. She's great and I actually knew a lot of the people who we saw that day! One of them was someone I'd met on the train a few weeks earlier, and others I'd met at activities. Chosei and Togane are so close together that there's a fair bit of intermingling. There is a huge international university in Togane, so we always get to spend time with students from around the world. I made two new friends from Poland, both named Anna. It was really hard not to say "that's my name too!" Nope, still Sister MacArthur. I don't know how the missionaries in America do it - I feel so dorky and awkward introducing myself in English.

We had a fun adventure on Friday when I made friends with a girl on the train ride back to Chosei, then discovered that she'd forgotten her bento box on a bench. Since we knew where she worked we decided to go on a rescue mission and bring it back to her before her lunch break! She was really happy to see it and us, and hopefully we can meet up during her lunch break sometime soon. We also were approached by a funny lady there, who wanted to ask us questions but refused to give out any contact information. But then she actually called us today!

Last miracle: we finally got to teach Na, a really sweet 14-year-old girl who we've been talking to on Facebook for a while after the Elders met her housing. She'd been worrying about what happens after we die, especially judgement, and we got to teach her the Plan of Salvation. I love to see the look on people's faces when we explain God's merciful plan that allows families to be reunited after death, and I especially loved that she was asking questions and just really cared. You have no idea how many people we'll meet here, and ask about their beliefs about an afterlife, who respond "I dunno, never really thought about it." Really? You've NEVER wondered what's going to happen to you after you die? I thought it was supposed to be one of the great questions of the human soul or something.

Pictures: sushi and enjoying Tokyo (I'm a giant!)

Love you all!! 愛しているよう ["As Love"]
Anna

Sisters Jones and Amituanai and Anna enjoying Tokyo and shopping after the temple visit.

Sister Jones, Anna, Sisters Snow and Amituanai out for sushi in Tokyo
Sister Missionaries at the Tokyo Temple in October 2014.  Anna and Sister Jones are on the far right.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hello!

Hello everyone,

Another good week in Chosei. Of course I knew it would be, because of General Conference! I loved every second of the 9.5 hours of talks, even the women's session that I use to make fun of. I wonder if this adoration will continue even when I'm not a missionary anymore, or if this is a once-in-a-lifetime ability to focus and not fall asleep. I only sort of nodded off once, when someone turned the AC off and it got super warm in the room.

For conference everyone met in the Chiba stake center (about an hour away by train) and they had special rooms set up for English, Portuguese and maybe one other language. All the missionaries in our stake, plus a few foreign members and investigators, watched together. Every conference seems to have different "themes" and this time I especially noticed people talking about prophets, the sacrament, charity/tolerance, and the importance of strengthening our own testimonies. Even as a missionary, when my faith is higher than its ever been, I felt an urge to not get satisfied and stop seeking to constantly learn and understand and believe more.

Going back and forth from Chiba gave us the chance to talk to lots of people on the train, and we ran into a lady who Sister Jones had met and talked to a week earlier with her daughter! We also saw her daughter at 7-11, where she works... So in total three encounters within a week. Missionaries don't believe in coincidences, so we found out more about her beliefs and asked if she had any interest in learning about the church. Turns out she used to study the Bible with Jehovah's Witness missionaries (we run into them a lot here, actually) and wants to get closer to God! So that was way cool and hopefully we'll meet her again soon. I believe her desire is sincere.

We met another lady this week who acted all excited to come to church and learn, but then never showed up to her appointment or answered our calls. But for some reason I sort of knew she'd do that before it even happened - I remember making backup plans in my head while biking over to the church to meet her.

Funny random things that happened:
  • When we taught Su the word of wisdom, she asked "but didn't Jesus drink wine?" I was shocked a Japanese lady who claims to know nothing about Christianity would even know that. She's also the first person here to ever comment on how church seems to be "run by men." I guess these are the kinds of questions missionaries in other countries deal with a lot.
  • During zone meeting, we had a silly "unity-building" relay race of sorts, and one of the Elders' investigators showed up early to a lesson just in time to watch us pass a ping-pong ball in between spoons. Probably wondering what he's gotten himself into.
  • Three separate members bringing lunch for us to conference, even though we were fasting. Sorry! They seemed shocked we would do such a thing.
Heart-warming moment of the week:  We had dinner at a member's house, and Ami Shimai came too. She said she was so grateful she'd come back to church, and it just made me so happy. Witnessing her re-conversation has been a huge privilege and a blessing.

Useful Japanese words I learned this week:
  • matsurikomu = to place an obnoxious person in an out-of-the-way post to be rid of him
  • benjomeshi = having lunch in a toilet cubicle to avoid others
  • tsujigiri = killing a passerby in order to test a new sword
Our friends took us to a local art museum today, and it was pretty cool. A lot of the local pottery artists were there and explained their pieces to us, and we also saw an exhibit on the progression of the rice cooker throughout the last 100 years! You'll notice the model in the very middle is the exact same kind mom uses at home. Maybe it's time for an upgrade.

Love you all!
Anna

At the art museum in Chosei

Chosei art museum exhibit on the history of the rice cooker

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hope this gets to everyone this time

We had an awesome, crazy week. By some blessed miracle a lot of our formerly MIA investigators were able to meet this week, so that was nice. I much prefer showing up to someone's house welcome, with an appointment, instead of bothering them when they're busy. Our teaching pool was also increased when the other sisters' contracts became ours, so we've been slowly meeting some of them. Most of them we already knew from Eikaiwa or other activities, so it was a fairly easy transition.

There was a big typhoon today with winds going at crazy speeds - luckily it was over by the time we were done studying and cleaning, so no bicycle accidents, but we got very soaked last night and my bike helmet somehow bent it like Beckham and flew around the other side of our apartment building. Honbu sent out an email saying "please don't go outside to take pictures" which was weirdly specific so I wonder if anyone had been doing that.

Because it was the other sisters last week, we got lots of food gifts and did lots of last-hurrah eating. I went up one kilo this week, which puts me two ahead of what I was in Oyama but 3 under what I was in Niigata. Slow but steady progress. Anyway, it was pretty sad to say goodbye to them but I know they'll have fun in their new areas! Sister Chandler is going to Oyama, so I gave her a note to give to Aki (still taking the lessons and working towards baptism!)

We met a new friend Shi last week - after talking to us on the street for a few minutes, she told us that she used to live in Texas for a few years and knew about the church! She then said we were welcome to come over anytime and she'd make us Mexican food. I knew she was golden from the very start. We actually did go over on Saturday, met her husband and friend from work, and had the most delicious feast I could imagine. Sister Jones and I were in charge of making the tortillas, so unfortunately those turned out kind of weird but besides that a complete success.

We also, as a mission, kicked off the Christmas season early. This year we are focusing on the true meaning of Christmas, and helping everyone come closer to Christ. For every baptism, returned less-active, new convert who goes to the temple, and other things pertaining to the work of salvation each companionship will make a paper crane. I'm going to get really good at making them soon.

Other highlights:
  • Meeting a girl on the train who's a very strong Baptist. Definitely the first time I'd ever met a Japanese Baptist. She was super cool, let us teach her the Restoration, and showed us to how to count in Japanese sign language.
  • Getting told by the members that we'd be in charge of a photo booth for the Halloween party, taking pictures with people that come. We were instructed to make sure we look our most beautiful - I wonder if they told the Elders that?
  • Meeting the new Elder straight out of the MTC, Elder Bennet. Sister Jones and I have been calling him E. Bennet in reference to Pride and Prejudice and cracking up like the dorky Mormon girls we are.
  • Finding out that there is a group here similar to the Senzokuike park wild cat society, who feed a bunch of ferals who live by the train station. I guess this is a Japanese thing.
  • Being confused out of my mind as we discussed Isaiah in Gospel Doctrine. Sometimes the teacher asks missionaries questions about what the English text says, or random theories about America, and I try not to look like an idiot. Put "read the Old Testament" on my to-do list.
Pictures - Me helping with dinner the last night before sisters Cheney and Chandler left, last district picture, and our fiesta.

Love!!
Anna

Anna "helping" with dinner before Sisters Cheney and Chandler leave for their new areas.

Chosei District before transfers

Anna, Jones Shimai, Shi's husband, and Shi and work friend making and eating Mexican food.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I'm back

Transfer calls were today! Both me and Sister Jones are staying - no real surprise there. The plot twist happened when the other sisters were told that they are BOTH leaving - and no one new coming in. So Chosei Sisters have gone from four to two, and we are now in charge of caring for all the women in this area. I haven't lived in an apartment with only two people since my very first transfer, so it'll be kind of weird.

Other than that not much has happened today. We both got much-needed haircuts. I always feel so guilty when the hairdressers look at my hair and ask how long it's been since I got it cut! When I mumbled "over a year ago" he looked shocked. The people were really nice and said they'd put up an Eikaiwa poster in their shop. Kato Kyoudai made us a bunch (I think he emailed you a picture) and suggested that we ask local shops to post them, becoming friends with the owners. He's challenged us to place 30 posters before the Halloween party and 100 before the Christmas party! We were on track pretty well until the other sisters had to up and leave, leaving us with more work. Hopefully lots of new students come to Eikaiwa as a result - last week attendance was at an all-time low with 3 students.

This week was pretty fun. Tuesday was a national holiday of some sorts (it had to do with bringing flowers to your ancestors' graves, like all the other holidays here. I had wondered how all the flower shops here stay in business) so the Ward had a sports day at a local gym near the church. Lots of young people came, and our WML is a beast at basketball! My baller skills haven't improved much since my fourth grade YMCA days, but I was alright at volleyball. I wonder if my kids will escape the MacArthur athletic curse.

I don't know if I mentioned before that we started going to a Japanese class once a week, but that's been fun. Our original intention was to befriend other foreigner students but not many people usually show up... So, we teach our teachers instead. They always have lots of questions about what we do in Japan, and last time we got to show them pictures about the Tokyo temple and explain all about it.

Our zone did a blitz in Kisarazu on Saturday, which is where everyone comes together, sets a goal, and goes out to find people for a couple hours. I got to see my friend Iwa san, who got baptized last month, and he's doing well! There were lots of miracles seen that day, and some really creative tactics used. A few of the Elders set up a booth next to the train station with a big sign that said "do you want to janken (play rock-paper-scissors) with an American?" They'd then challenge people to play and start talking to them. Somehow rock-paper-scissors turned into them giving out a ton of Books of Mormon.

The days are all just blending together now. Can you believe how fast time is going? We're already getting ready for the church Halloween party (the single largest event of the year, including Christmas, for nonmembers coming to the church building) and soon after that it'll be Thanksgiving and then... Yikes. It's almost surreal how quickly everything goes by.

Love you all! See you sooner than I can believe.
Anna

Took no pictures again this week, so here are some older ones of when Sister Sticht and I went to the beach. It was windy.

Sticht Shimai and Anna at the beach near Chosei

Anna at the beach


Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekly update

Hello again!

Since the last time I wrote was Tuesday, not Monday, it seems like time went by so fast. This week was pretty busy (just like every week, I guess) and full of good things. Some highlights:

  • Teaching kids' Eikaiwa and wondering how my elementary school French teachers ever did it. It's really difficult to keep everyone engaged and having fun when the levels of skill and maturity are so different. There's Ko, a six-year-old angel who's both super cute and super good at English, and then there's the Chi brothers who spend all of class hitting each other and learning nothing.
  • Going on splits in Togane with Sister Sticht! It was so fun and so natural to work with her again. We visited a member in the evening who I instantly loved - Ta Shimai. She's been wanting to go to church for a while but feels guilty because her friends keep pressuring her to go out and drink with them, wearing wort of risqué dresses, and she gives in. I realized that our high school problems never really leave us - I used to think it would be so much easier to be "good" after I graduated and was rid of the temptation to change my behavior to fit in more, but we can never really run away from our problems. I'm glad I learned in high school how to be comfortable with myself and not worry about what others did, or else it would just get harder and harder as I got older.
  • Sitting inside our apartment studying, when I saw a blonde woman pushing a stroller. There are like no foreigners here at all, so we got really excited and ran outside to meet our new friend Olga from Russia.
  • Also an old lady on the train gave us a ton of candy - I know you're not supposed to take treats from strangers but the rules are different in Japan.
  • Seeing a miracle when knocking on doors. A man answered, and when we said which church we belonged to he started laughing and said "Mormons are dangerous." Turns out he used to go to a different Christian church in high school, and probably heard some weird rumors. He said it'd been a while since he thought about church, and he wondered why there were so many. We said that we actually taught about that very thing, and then, it happened - HE INVITED US IN. I think my jaw dropped. That has never happened to me on my whole mission. We taught a very simple version of the Restoration, gave a Book of Mormon to him and his mother, and had our jaws drop again as he asked where the church was and said he'd come next week. Honestly I don't think it would have mattered what we'd said - he was being prepared to hear about the Gospel, and he recognized truth when it came to him. Also he gave us kiwi juice so already following the church members' tradition of force feeding us every time we're in sight.

We celebrated today at a local bakery - the bread is in the shape of AnPanMan, the Japanese Spongebob but maybe more famous. He's a big deal. Also us going out for sushi on Pday with our friend Mari.

Love you all!
Anna
Sushi with Anna, Mari and Jones Shimai

AnPanMan!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's me again

Hey all,

I started that email the way Jeff would always start the group texts he sent out to the track team. I've been thinking a lot about track lately, especially since I've now come to the point where I only have 3 months left, and it's sprinting time. I think my mission has somewhat followed the pattern of my 400-meter race.
  • First 4 months (Not including the two months of the MTC) - tons of excitement, energy, nerves for what was ahead. It seemed like my mission would last forever, and it'd be hard, but I was excited and took off out of the blocks.
  • Second 4 months - lots of new stuff thrown at me at once, combined with the cold winter snow, made me slow down the pace a bit. I studied hard and worked at becoming a better, more proficient missionary - lengthening my stride, if you will. The original excitement was dwindling but I had stability, and kept chugging along.
  • Third three months - Coach Yamauchi encouraged me to pick up the pace. Together we worked hard to build up an area that had been struggling before, and saw so many miracles. Similar to when I'd quicken my stride and go faster, faster, faster around the second turn of the track.
  • And now - the finish line is in sight.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what my "finish line", or end goal, is. It's not going home. It's seeing a Christmas miracle of Tomi and Yu and her children and all my friends I love so much here be able to invite blessings into their lives by being baptized. So now I'm sprinting, and if I don't fall across the finish line as my lungs and legs give out I'll know I could have done more. Trying not to let myself hold anything back.

Maybe that was a bit dramatic. But it's what I thought of as I sat listening in Zone Conference this week. I listened to all the soon-to-be returning missionaries give their final testimonies, realizing that next zone conference I'd be doing the same thing, and realized it was time to give myself a concrete, specific goal that I could visualize. Just like Jeff told us to visualize ourselves winning a race, I'm visualizing my friends in white, smiling from ear to ear. It's why I came here to Japan. I remember the intense love I felt before I came for people I didn't even know yet, but I DO know them now. Everything's clicking together.

And slowly, those dreams are becoming reality. We gave Tomi a Book of Mormon last week, all marked up with our favorite scriptures and our testimonies written inside. She looked really excited to read it! And Yu surprised us by coming to church with all four of her children last Sunday, even though we hadn't heard from her at all. Actually we saw lots of miracles at church that day. Both Elders and I all gave talks in sacrament meeting (strange that they would schedule so many missionaries on one day), and we all had lots of people come and listen. Su, our favorite stubborn Atheist with a heart of gold, came by bicycle. And so did the Wats, a way funny couple that come to our Saturday morning Eikaiwa. They constantly bicker and make fun of each other and we can't tell if they actually can't stand each other or are madly in love. Sometimes they ballroom dance after class. Anyway, we invite them every week, and every week they say no. But then they just showed up, dressed in church clothes, and sat themselves down! It was sweet.

Other adventures this week include Sister Jones' bike tire going flat while we were out in the middle of nowhere, and meeting a super cool girl who just got back from living in London as a professional contemporary dancer. We met her as we were walking (from being bikeless) so maybe the tire decided to pop at that time for a reason?

We also went to the temple this week. Here's me with the roomies - Sisters Cheney, Chandler, Jones. Not a super flattering shot but it's all I have.

Love you!
Anna


Sisters Cheney, Chandler, Jones and Anna at Tokyo temple.

Monday, September 8, 2014

久しぶりだね (That's A Long Time)

 It's Monday already!

Time continues to race by. Even though we had what I guess was a "slower" week - lots of cancellations and people being too "sick" or "busy" to meet us. I'm not really sure what people think we do all day - maybe chill at the church or our apartment, because they seem to think they're doing us a favor when they cancel. "Oh it's raining today, don't bike all the way out to my house! Don't catch a cold!" And we're like, thanks friend. Since I can't be at your house I will now be standing out in that rain knocking on doors or trying to think of someone else to go visit uninvited. People definitely don't know how much effort we put in for them. If they did they might be kind of weirded out. Typical example of daily preparation:

  • 9:00-9:30 the night before - plan the next day, decide what should be taught, begin and end with a prayer
  • 10:30 - pray for our investigators before bed
  • 6:10 the next morning - say a really groggy, half-asleep prayer for them
  • 8:00 - pray again and study to be able to answer their questions
  • 9:00 - pray, study and plan lessons with your companion
  • 10:00 - pray, study all the Japanese you'll need for the day's lessons And add in maybe like 30 more prayers.
Then you get a text like two hours before the appointment saying "ehh, I'm kinda tired, let's reschedule for next week." Grrr!

Okay, rant over.

We saw some good things this week even though we spent more time than I would have liked circling the same blocks over and over, trying to find addresses than aren't written anywhere visible. I could complain for days about the awful house numbering system in this country - and, unlike Tokyo, there aren't 7-11's on every corner where we can mooch the free wi-fi and check Google maps. I wonder if the missionaries in America use 7-11 wi-fi as much as we do? I'd like to thank the CEO of 7-11 worldwide for all your company has done to hasten the work of salvation.

Ami Shimai came to church! Probably the first time in like 6 years. She had a good time and said she felt a warm feeling, even though the teacher in Gospel Principles didn't know she was a member at first and kept asking her all these questions like "have you ever see the Book of Mormon? Have you heard of Jesus Christ?" I was trying to think of a tasteful way to say something without embarrassing either of them but luckily another member did it for me.

We went shopping today for the first time in a while, and I decided to be brave and look at the pants section. Basically there are rows and rows and rows of size 22 (What is that in American sizes? Like a 00?) and then one tiny section of "fat" pants from sizes 24-30. Skewed, shrunken Japanese sizes 24-30. I have no idea where actual chubby people here buy their clothes. I actually did end up buying one pair of pants, because they were stretchy and XL - I wonder what it will be like to shop in America and not feel like a giant.

This week I ran over a snake with my bike for the second time in Japan. I think this one was already dead, but still freaked me out. Critters here are HUGE. Bees as thick as my pointer finger, spiders that would cover my hand, grasshoppers four inches long. I took a picture of a big moth we found, with my foot next to it for reference.

Other random highlights:
  • Sister Jones and I sang "there is sunshine in my soul today" at Music Night, using a maraca I made with rice for percussion
  • The elders taught one of the men in the ward how to say "good morning, my fair lady" so that's how he greeted everyone coming into church.
  • Sister Jones taught me how to make pudding in the microwave with milk and an egg. It's been a blast.
Well, can't think of much else. Hopefully next week is more exciting.

Love you all and I'll talk to you soon! Although it'll be on Tuesday because we're going to the temple next week.

Anna

Big Japanese moth (the binomial name for the Luna moth is “Actias artemis,” and in Japanese it’s called “Oomizuao” (オオミズアオ))

Monday, September 1, 2014

More news from Chosei

Hello again! Time continues to fly. I continue to be bad at directions but things continue to work out okay. Continue to fight the good fight of trying to be healthy in a land full of delicious, easily accessible sugary goodness. Not too much has changed. Just a whole lotta MIRACLES! Yu and Kasu are finally back in town, and I'm so excited to see them again. I get separation anxiety when my investigators go on vacation.

I'm gonna start with the best thing that happened this week - our friend Tomi came to church this week with her daughters, and then we went to her house afterwards. She is so sweet, and loving, and ready for the gospel - she's gone through really hard things lately with her husband, and it's not fair for her or her kids, but she's trying to be positive. She told us that right about the time she met us she'd started to try to look to the future and figure out how to be happy. She was searching for what to do in various self-help books. Then she came to church and saw all the happy members, and got to talk to one woman in particular whose story was very similar to Tomi's. She hardly knows anything about church but she feels the Spirit and wants to know more and know how to find the happiness she sees. I love her so much and am so grateful that we were able to meet her just at the right time.

Other miracles this week include Ami Shimai, the less-active member who recently started rereading the Book of Mormon and coming to activities. At first it seemed impossible for her to come to church, because she's a member of an acting troupe that practices every Sunday, but she told as that next week she has a break so she's coming! She also said she's planning on being done with acting this year - it's time for her to move on, and focus on other things like getting married and starting a family. Is it a coincidence that she decided this after we introduced her to one of the single men in the ward and they hit it off? I don't know. But they showed up to ping-pong night TOGETHER this week and I was on cloud nine. It's too bad I don't live in whatever century Fiddler on the Roof takes place because being Yenta the matchmaker would literally be the best job I can think of.

It's funny how things that seem impossible have a way of magically becoming reality once people begin to be converted. Remember Kay, the Eikaiwa student from Senzokuike? He told us he had work every Sunday - coming to church was "impossible." But then one week, he decided he wanted to come, and he did. Then again. Now he has a baptismal date. There really is something to the saying "anything is possible, if you just believe." So many "impossibles" are man-made things, created by people who either don't want or don't dare to try for something that seems too hard. But once they have that genuine desire, things change and miracles happen.

Homu san, our favorite sweet older lady who's come to church the last 3 weeks in a row now, told us that she liked church but that she could never get baptized because her husband wouldn't allow it. Hearing that maybe a year ago would have sent me into a panic, thinking all hope was lost, but now all I think is "hmm, what is she missing? What would help her strengthen her faith?" Because once she has a strong testimony of the gospel, miracles will happen and possibilities will arise.

Anyway, I think I'm getting a little tired. We had a fun day today, where our whole zone gathered at a park in Togane and played capture the flag and kickball - way nostalgic for elementary school days. I'm relatively quick for a female but still useless when it comes to fielding so not much has changed there either. I remember thinking near the start of my mission that I was changing so much and everyone at home was staying the same, but now it's the opposite. Will everyone just slow down a little bit! Thank you.

Although if I've changed at all I guess I'm just more of a dorky missionary. Sister Jones and I have gotten into the habit of having weird, mystery-of-the-kingdom type conversations during lunch or evening downtime. Last week we were trying to figure out what kind of place Heaven is like, or its higher organization, or how we'll continue to progress after we die - stuff that no human actually knows so really we're just spinning garbage. But it's fun. I think I also quoted a general conference talk in a joke at some point today... Let's hope I can break these strange habits soon.

No picture this week... Sorry. I just post all the ones I take on Facebook anyway. Feel free to like everything I post - that way more people will see it and the gospel will spread to all the earth. It's one of your missionary duties.

Love you all and I'll see ya next week!
Anna


Monday, August 25, 2014

Hello!

Made it through transfer week - they're always crazy, with all the packing and goodbyes and preparation that needs to be done. This time was surprisingly low-stress, but still incredibly busy. One nice thing about when a missionary leaves their area is that all your investigators magically have time to meet with you and say goodbye even though they had said before that "this month is impossible" or whatever. Nihonjin are world-class excuse makers. I even find myself subconsciously switching to Japanese when I complain because it just flows so well in that language.

Iza finally came home from vacation, and we got to teach her. I enjoy our lessons so much -  she's smart, interesting, and shows such enthusiasm. She loves praying, and reading the Book of Mormon, and meeting us - but unfortunately thinks that maybe that's enough. She's a little scared of upsetting her family by being baptized, so is willing to settle for only some happiness. I just can't understand why people do that to themselves! It's like choosing to look at some fresh-baked cookies, smell them, rub them on your face, and carry them around with you all day without ever taking a bite. Maddening.

Su is doing well, and we figured out part of her hesitance to believe in God - He's a man. We explained about Heavenly Mother and all that but she still didn't seem quite satisfied. I've done it - I've found the one feminist in Japan. Luckily that's nothing new for me so I know how to answer her difficult questions. Sometimes. We took a picture with her and her daughter before Sister Sticht left.

I was sad to see Sister Sticht go but things are going well with Sister Jones! Besides getting lost more often than usual. No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to overcome that particular trial.
Although I have more tools than I did before - iPad, phone GPS, a compass that I bought for my bike. So no huge disasters yet. Although we did get pretty lost jogging one morning, which was dumb because it was right near our own apartment. Did I mention we go jogging every morning now? As a lazy pile by nature I wasn't too excited about it at first but I'm enjoying it more and more now. Hopefully I'll get back in better shape before I go home and not have to start from scratch.

Hmm, what else... Ping pong night has been booming lately. Our friend Ami Shimai came again, and also to Eikaiwa and music night. She also told us that she started reading the Book of Mormon again! I was way happy, and then had to hold in my exasperation as a man in the ward kept rambling about all these random study patterns she should do (ex, read a certain number of pages per day instead of chapters, and other things that don't matter) and telling her to read in Moses and Abraham and countless other places.

Word to church members everywhere trying to encourage someone else who's learning about the gospel: keep it simple. Don't blast them with tons of irrelevant and unhelpful information. I love the members here but sometimes I get stressed over worrying if they're going to say something weird during a lesson. If we're teaching the Atonement, please don't bring up obscure church history references or tithing or anything like that. Okay, rant over.

I hope that being a missionary prepares me to be a helpful member in the future and that the missionaries serving where I live don't have to worry about me scaring their investigators.

Cool scripture of the week: "You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves." (D&C
123:16)  I feel very, very small sometimes. There is just so much I can't do by myself. But every bit counts, and I want to be sure that I'm giving 100% of what I have so that Heavenly Father can find some use for me.

Love you all!
Anna

Sister sticht, Su & daughter, and Anna in Chosei

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Transfer week!

Well, transfer calls happened. I'm staying in Chosei, but Sister Sticht is leaving me. I was pretty bummed but excited to find out that she's staying close by and transferring to Togane, our next-door neighbor! And she'll be my sister training leader along with Sister Willden - I love them both dearly and am looking forward to splits. I have been honorably discharged for now as STL, which is kind of weird because I've now been one for longer than not. But I won't miss the 2-hour long train rides to Honbu! My new companion is Sister Jones, from Australia, who I've met briefly but don't know much about. She came out about the same time as me so it should be fun!

This week was kind of crazy because it was O-bon, some big Japanese holiday where the spirits of dead ancestors come back to visit. So, everyone had work off, but was either traveling or refused to make appointments with us. We relied a lot on Skype, Facebook and surprise visits. One cool moment was when we visited Su, whose husband apparently doesn't like us because he thinks we're witchcrafting his wife. We knew he'd be home so we made a homemade puzzle for them (they LOVE puzzles) and came to drop it off. He was outside when we got there, shining his sweet-looking car, and Sister Sticht tried to bond with him by talking cars but we don't exactly have that vocabulary. I was zero help. So hopefully he could calm down and see how un-threatening we are.

Last P-day was awesome! We went to Onjuku, a famous surfing beach, and hung out on a giant towel and wrote letters. We also got to talk to Sue, who lives there, and she told us some cool stories about local traditions and history. It was a pretty windy day and we were covered in sand all week. Every once in a while we'll find more sand in our apartment or purses and say "Onjuku lives on!"

We got to spend more time with Kasu this week, which made me so happy. She's been really sick and will move away for about a month to be with family, and I just want her to get better so badly. She is an angel. I also got to meet her infamous dog Hope, who is completely psycho and totally spoiled. She's getting old so she has to wear diapers at night - see picture.

Another fun thing was going to ping-pong night with Ami Shimai. She hasn't been to church in a long time but was able to make some friends at the church (we very slyly invited one of the single men in the ward around her age and grinned all night as they went off in a corner and talked forever). She also kicked our butts at ping pong. Japanese people are all so much better at ping-pong, it's not fair. Also Elders are always really good. I swear they practice.

Other adventures this week... We flooded our apartment while trying to fix our washing machine. All the instructions are in kanji, and we spent a lot of time trying to look them all up and decipher them but still couldn't do it. We called some members and they came over and fixed it in like five minutes.

We did a lot of "pass-off lessons" this week with people we'd met who live in other areas, to introduce them to the missionaries who live in that area. One of the fun parts of riding trains all the time is meeting people from all over. I think dad asked me if navigating trains is easy - it's not, but you get used to certain stations and certain routes. We just use asking for help with trains as conversation starters, which sometimes helps but we've also been led astray a lot. If you ask a Japanese person for directions and they don't know, they will never just say "sorry I don't know." They'll lead you on a wild goose chase forever, often involving other people, until you either find your destination or pretend to find your destination to let them off the hook.

I would ask you to pray that I don't get lost without Sister Sticht to guide, but last time I asked that it didn't work so I won't bother. When I get lost I'll just try to make the most of it.

We had dinner with some awesome members last night - here's another picture. I don't have anymore.

Love you all! Have a good week
Anna

Hope, the psycho, spoiled and diaper-wearing dog

Dinner with awesome members of Chosei Ward

Monday, August 11, 2014

August 10, 2014 (Subject is the image of a surfer?!?)

Hey all,

I don't think I've ever spent so much time on trains in my life. Sometimes you meet super cool people on trains and have awesome conversations, and sometimes the people just really don't want to talk to you and it's extremely awkward. This week I met an awesome girl named Mi who lives near the beach, and we might see her today. I also got rejected hardcore by a lady who told me she had "an appointment with a friend in the next car over." Please, at least make up excuses that sound halfway credible.

But now, time for the miracles!! We had THREE baptisms in the Chiba South zone (consisting of Chosei, Togane and Kisarazu) this weekend. So awesome and happy and a great way to end the transfer (although we still have one more week). One of the Elders' investigators, So, got baptized here in Chosei. It was a lovely service except for the all-missionary choir singing A Child's Prayer that was pretty awful. Sort of nothing you can do about it - our schedules don't allow for much music practice time.

Also, do you remember the funny Kisarazu Eikaiwa student I was talking about a few weeks back? I met him on splits, and he kept referring to other nonmembers as "guests" while insisting that although he hadn't been baptized, he was basically a member. Well, he officially took his name off the guest list and was baptized over the weekend! He's so nice and will be a great addition to the branch there.

We also had a pretty sweet day at church. Su, the lady who couldn't come to church because her husband didn't like it, told us that he had work this Sunday so she wanted to come. She also came to the baptismal service beforehand! She continues to puzzle us and we're not really sure why she wanted to come to church, but happy that she did. Homu San also came for the second time, and loved it. She's so ridiculously sweet and loves everything that we teach her.

One of the best things that happened was when Tomi came to church. We met her through a mutual friend, and had talked a little on Facebook about Eikaiwa but nothing church-related yet. But when we invited her to church to see Sister Sticht sing, she said she'd come! So she showed up with her daughter, and they had a great time. I was playing the piano, so I couldn't see anything, but Sister Sticht told me that halfway through the second verse of the song ("I'm Trying to be like Jesus" in Japanese) that tears were running down Tomi's face. She messaged us afterwards and thanked us, saying that she felt something really special at church and that she'd been going through a really rough time. She said she felt healed. I think we were led to Tomi right when she needs it the most, and am so excited to continue to meet with her.

Other cool things this week: splits with Sister Willden (more MTC reunions!) and getting suuuuuper lost out in the middle of nowhere while it was dark. A policeman pulled us over and scolded us for not having bright enough lights. Sorry I'm poor and buy all my safety gear at the dollar store!

Picture: sometimes we make cake pops to give to people, and stick them in a cabbage head so that the chocolate can harden without touching anything. Creative geniuses.

Have a good week! The "typhoon" passed yesterday so we're fine. Maybe rained for 20 minutes. Japanese people are experts at freaking out about the weather.

Love, Anna

Sister Sticht excited about cake pops