Monday, January 27, 2014

week 8 in Niigata

Greetings mina san...

This week, like all transfer weeks, was super hectic. Packing is seriously the WORST and I was glad I didn't have to do it this time! Poor Sister Orton had to pack up all of the stuff she'd accumulated after working for five months in the world's most generous branch, and ended up leaving a lot of it here (always happens). I miss her but the pain is softened a little when I eat the Goldfish and gummies she couldn't fit in her suitcase.

My new roommate, Sister Crane's companion, is Sister Amituanai. She's from Australia and is way outgoing - they're already meeting lots of new people and I know that miracles are on their way to Niigata!

For some reason all of our investigators got together and decided to ignore our calls as a group effort, so we didn't do much teaching this week. More time to go talk to strangers on the street! On Tuesday we bundled up and biked out to an area we hadn't been before, hoping to meet a lot of university students by campus. But the thing about Japan is that they build up instead of out, so college campuses aren't really a thing. It'll just be one 15-story building with no hang out areas. So that didn't work according to plan, but we still met a lot of nice people.

Wednesday morning we went to an old folk's home with some Relief Society sisters to visit with the people there... kind of. Most of them don't really communicate very well, but they like looking at our family pictures and occasionally mumbling something to which we smile and nod. The only one who really talked was this one old man who's infamous for flirting with all the sister missionaries - I was actually pretty grateful he was there or else it would have been kind of awkward with no one else saying anything.

Wednesday evening was Eikaiwa, which has a different topic every week. This week was time. We usually play a game at the end, so I thought it would be fun to play What Time is it Mr. Fox? Preschool memories! It was fun, and people got progressively more and more into it - that was when things got a little out of control. Near the end two of the Elders accidentally ended up body-slamming one of the students into a wall. And it was his first day at Eikaiwa! Hopefully he comes back next week...

Since missionaries can never be by themselves, we had a lot to figure out with temporary companions and meeting in the middle as everyone went off to their new areas. Thursday was full of picking up and dropping off missionaries at the bus stop, and then we hosted other sisters in our zone for a big sleepover before everyone went back to their areas. This transfer they're opening a Sisters' apartment on Sado island! You can look at it on a map if you want. It's the only island in our mission (besides like, all of Japan I mean) and I'm way excited to go there on companion exchanges. Sister Willden from my MTC district is going there with Sister Mondano. They're both awesome!

Oh yeah, and apparently I'm a sister training leader now? The reason I didn't say that in my last email was because I didn't know. The assistants forgot to tell me when they did transfer calls. Anyway, all of the zones got split, so now our zone is only Niigata and Sado. So I'll watch over (that sounds so dumb... it's hard to think of myself as the experienced one) five other sisters, my roommates and the ones on Sado. I'm not on the email list yet for STLs, and it's been kind of hectic being out of the loop and not really knowing what's going on, so I'll tell you more about my new responsibilities when I know. I still kind of feel like I just got here and it's scary how fast time is going by.

On Friday we did some more streeting and then went home to call people from our area book. We didn't do a whole lot of area book finding last transfer, maybe partly because of my insecurities about talking on the phone, but it's been pretty good. Basically we just call up people who met with the missionaries like ten years ago and ask if they would be interested in meeting us and talking about the church again. The records are so old that many phone numbers are no longer in use, but we've had some success and are meeting with a former investigator this Wednesday for lunch. I'm a pro at the phone now!

Saturday was also a big biking day, going out to visit less-active members who mostly weren't home. But we got to talk to a few! My bike and boots are now filthy. The Black Cat is now sort of a brownish gray in some parts. On Sunday we went to church, and visited people, and called people - the usual. The branch had a big potluck lunch after church so that was fun. One of Oseki Shimai's English class students came and we helped her practice for an English speech contest she's competing in. Those seem to be pretty common here!

Well, can't think of much else to say. Hopefully I'll have more exciting news next week!

Love you!!

Niigata Sisters (Crane, Anna, Wigginton, and Amituanai)

Monday, January 20, 2014


Where to start...

Well, first off, I'm staying in Niigata with Sister Wigginton. No huge surprise there. Sister Orton, one of my roomies, is transferring, and I'll miss her.

I know you're all dying to hear about Kim's baptism, and I wish I could tell you how wonderful it was, but unfortunately that will have to wait. The closer she got to Saturday the less sure she became, and after days of having our calls dodged and questions unanswered we went to go visit her on Friday. I finally just had to ask her, very directly, if she even wanted to be baptized, and she told us "not yet." She also didn't want to make a next appointment or come to church on that Sunday. Feeling defeated, we went back, wondering what to do and if it was worth it to continue to try to teach her.

I'm going to be honest, it was really hard. Easily the hardest week of my mission so far. I broke a 7-month no-crying streak (which really, is something to be grateful for - I had a pretty good run!) and finally began to understood a little how the Lord of the vineyard feels in Jacob chapter 5. I felt I'd done everything possible to help Kim. I'd fasted, prayed, asked others to pray, encouraged her, called so many times she probably thought I was a stalker, and even had another missionary put her name on the prayer list in the temple since I couldn't go myself. But it still wasn't enough. I know what it's like to watch someone you care about be lost no matter how hard you try to guide them, and weep, and wonder what more you could have done to save your vineyard.

Later that afternoon, we went to a member's house to meet her grand daughter and teach a practice lesson to them. It was very nice and fun until we noticed that she was having some trouble swallowing, and then she fell on the ground. It was a stroke. I will forever be grateful that just as she fell, and I rushed over to ask if I should call the ambulance (which I definitely don't know how to do) her husband came home. The Lord likes to give us challenges, but He also knows our limits. She's in the hospital now, recovering, and it all turned out okay, but it was scary.

I guess it's fitting that all these things happened on the day I turned 20 - the age of adulthood in Japan. My mission had been pretty fun and easy so far, and it was time for me to grow up a little.

And I think I have been able to progress, at least a little. When Kim first cancelled her baptism all I wanted to do was become so involved with helping other people that I could forget about her. I wanted to run away from my failure. In my efforts to protect my own emotions, though, I forgot about hers. While praying to know what to do, the one distinct feeling that came over me was "you're not done." I'm not giving up on Kim, because I know she's been prepared and she will get baptized someday. For now she's scared, but after she just makes a decision she can be free from all that worry and uncertainty. She will never have to wonder "what if..."

So, sorry, not the happiest letter this week. But I have a renewed determination to move forward and not let a transfer's worth of time and effort go to waste. I believe I was put here, in Niigata, at this time, for a reason.

A list of good, happy things that happened:

  • Oseki Shimai made a birthday cake for each of the THREE missionaries who had birthdays here this week.
  • We found the one Mexican restaurant in Japan and ate there on Saturday. After studying the menu for forever I decided to go with the classic bean and cheese burrito and I have no regrets.
  • Getting to teach the plan of salvation to one of my favorite investigators, Moto. She doesn't have a super strong desire to change her life, but she's way funny and we always have really interesting discussions.
  • Finally feeling like I understand the talks in church.
  • Using Christmas money to buy myself ski gloves and insulated rain boots. Right in time for the snow that's starting to fall! We're at 1 or 2 inches now.

Thank you for all your letters, prayers, kindness, and other help. I love you and I hope that everyone is doing well!

Love, Anna

The "only" Mexican restaurant in Japan

Anna celebrates 20th birthday

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sister MacArthur (From the O. Family January 12)

Dear Tom and Kathy MacArthur,

How’s the weather there? We had a little snow on weekend and it melted all. It is said that our Niigata District is the coldest place and has much snow in Tokyo Mission. But Niigata is windy place and has a little snow.

We had dinner with missionaries on Sunday. I made curry and rice. We invited a Chinese family but they canceled and I invited my student’s family. While Sister Orton and Sister Crane were correcting my student’s English speech, Sister MacArthur and her companion were playing a game with a 8 years old girl in Japanese. The girl looked happy. After dinner ,Missionaries told good messages and gave a Book of Mormon to my student’s mother.

We had a very good time with missionaries.  

Sincerely yours,
The O. Family

Dinner with the O. Family and friends in Niigata

Monday, January 13, 2014

week 6 in Niigata

Can't believe the last week of the transfer is already here! I remember being pretty nervous to come out to Niigata, but I've loved it and this last six weeks were probably the fastest of my whole mission. I'd be surprised if I transferred next week, but I guess ya never know. I learned my lesson last time when I tried to guess President Budge's plan!

Biggest news this week: Kim's baptism is going to be next Saturday. She had her interview on Thursday, and it would have been kind of hard to put everything together in two days, so we decided on the 18th. Honestly I just want it to be next Saturday right now - I feel like there's a little stress monster kicking the back of my head that won't go away until I see her baptized and confirmed and everything works out.

Anyway, besides worrying about that, I had a great week. Our gas heater ran out on Saturday, so that wasn't fun, but luckily we were able to buy gas and get it working again. But the week was awesome because we got to start it out with Zone conference, which the Budges came to. The Budges are awesome, by the way. Our mission is in the middle of shifting its focus, and we've been having lots of success and seeing tons of miracles as a result. President Budge talked a lot about what we can do to change ourselves, too - you know, starting with the man in the mirror in order to better the world. He said the three most important things a missionary can be are humble, obedient, and diligent. All three of those things are within our control. They are choices, not characteristics we're born with. He didn't say we had to be clever, or outgoing, or anything like that. Sometimes I think of what the "perfect" missionary personality would be - a super smiley, enthusiastic, hardworking go-getter who loves talking to strangers and can remember names and new words with ease. But the truth is that there is no perfect type of missionary. We can all choose to become our best self, because the three most important attributes are within our potential.

After Zone conference we went on splits with our Sister Training Leader, which I love because you always see miracles on splits. It's seriously like someone cast a magic spell on Niigata and suddenly everyone wants to talk to us and be our friend. Both times I went out street contacting, once with the STL and once with her companion, the very first person we talked to wanted to know more about the Book of Mormon and was willing to take a copy and exchange numbers. It was incredible to see how they just wandered right into our path.

We've been working a lot this week to meet as many of the less-active members in this area as we can and build good relationships with them. Our Relief Society president has an awesome plan for how we can help invite them back to church, and it's been great getting to work with her towards the same goal. Basically our job is to visit, bring them a branch newsletter, and see how they're doing. If they have a pretty good image of church members and remember some of them, then we'll report back to the RS President, who will assign them visiting teachers so they can keep having church contact whether or not we have time to visit. Unfortunately a lot of our records are really old so we'll show up to someone's house to find that they've moved, or call a wrong number. So we've been busy cleaning up the out-of-date records.

Usually we prefer to have conversations with individual people instead of just passing out flyers at random, but we decided to spend some time doing kubari this week to increase the number of students at Eikaiwa (we have like 10-15 students now). Kubari basically just means standing in one spot and talking really loud in a mixture of Japanese and English, giving flyers to anyone who will take one. Sometimes I feel sort of ridiculous, like one of the super-loud beer vendors at baseball games, but it's actually pretty fun. Until our fingers freeze, that is. We can't really be outside for more than three hours at a time, and less once the sun goes down. It forces us to be creative with our time when we have days with no appointments.

Some memorable Japanese moments this week:

  • I finally succeeded in being funny! Sometimes I feel like I have no personality in Japanese because my language skills aren't good enough to use humor, and sarcasm isn't really a thing here. But I finally succeeded in making a joke, can't really remember what it was but I think it was probably about the Elders, and our district president's wife cracked up. Success.
  • One of the families in our branch had an exchange student from Norway, and when he decided to come to church one week, another member met him and was talking to him for a while. He wanted to find out if he was a member, I guess, but since in church we call everyone "Brother/Sister So-and-So" the way he asked was, "are you a Brother?" I don't know why I thought it was so funny, but I had to look away to keep from laughing.
  • This one happens all the time, not just this week, but I just thought of mentioning it. It's polite in Japanese to say "I'm being rude" pretty much any time you interrupt someone's previous activity. Before hanging up the phone, or entering a house, or after ringing a doorbell, anything. "I'm being rude." Even if you ask someone to call you, they'll still apologize for being rude when they do.
Life is good here. The only other piece of news is that I'm officially on a diet, trying to make up for all the damage caused by Christmas and New Years. Sister Orton and I are doing it together. We got a good start today when we actually went outside to exercise this morning (rare, in this weather) by jogging to a nearby park with a zip line!

Love you all!

Making friends in Niigata

Making fiends of all sorts in Niigata

Zip line in snowy Niigata

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy New Year (From the O. Family)

Dear Tom and Kathy MacArthur,

Happy New Year.  Fortunately it is warm and rainy.  It’s safer than snowy.

My daughter attended her lesson last year and she praised how Sister MacArthur’s lesson was wonderful.  Her talk is very well and it’s very easy to understand her lesson.  She speaks Japanese fluently.  My daughter was very impressed.  We appreciate Sister MacArthur’ service.

Sincerely yours
The O. Family

Niigata Branch Sisters and Elders

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year!

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! That means Happy New Year. And what a new year it's been!

We've seen lots of miracles already this week. To name a few:

  • Saying hello to a lady in the bakery who turned out to be a member who hadn't been to church in about 15 years! She wanted to go back, but was scared that she couldn't because it had been so long. She was so kind, and so happy to meet us! I'll say it again: I don't believe in coincidences.
  • Getting to plan for Kim's baptism, which is scheduled for this Saturday. I'm so proud of all the commitments she's making and happy that she gets to start out the new year with such an amazing blessing.
  • Meeting Cho on the train, who's probably one of the friendliest people ever to have lived in Niigata. People are usually pretty shy here. When I showed her the Book of Mormon I expected her to just look at the cover for a few seconds, but she spent ten whole minutes in silence flipping through the pages and reading. I just watched in awe.
  • Finding Mat when we knocked on her door, not knowing that she'd taken the missionary discussions 30 years ago. Both of her daughters died a while ago, and she studied all sorts of other religions, just looking for the one that would bring her peace. She'd sort of given up on finding it in this life, and said she was looking forward to leaving this world and being with her daughters again. My heart went out to her and I wanted so badly for her to understand how she can find joy and peace NOW, not just after death. She was so sweet, and so deserving of this knowledge and truth that's waiting for her to find it.

To ring in the new year we had a special mission-wide 2-day schedule from President Budge: Spent all day on the 31st deep cleaning our apartment, and all day on the 1st reading the Book of Mormon. Both days went by so fast! The 31st was loud and chaotic - cleaning and organizing tend to make things look worse before they get better, and we had stuff piled EVERYWHERE. It was fun to wear our sweats all day and listen to the most upbeat missionary-approved music we had. Then in the evening, we went to the Umedas' house for dinner with all the other missionaries. They're an awesome family in our branch, and it was really fun and delicious. They also gave us some traditional mochi, which Japanese people always eat on New Year's.

The 1st was a more quiet, spiritual day. I loved it. I remember before my mission getting kind of bored if I read the scriptures for too long (okay, maybe super bored) but now I can't get enough. Our study time every day is limited, and since we're always studying things for other people sometimes it feels like there's not enough time to just focus on what I want to read. I'd planned on constantly switching between activities to keep myself awake (reading in English, reading in Japanese, studying specific topics, looking up references from study books, etc.) but didn't really end up needing very much variety. Although we did play some scripture-chase games in our apartment - takes me back to seminary. We thought it would be fun to go out to ramen, all of us Sisters, but totally forgot that since it's New Years' everything would be shut down. So we got dinner at 7-11, which wasn't too bad. We also got some sparklers to light on our balcony, but to our surprise learned that they were actually super loud, powerful rockets. I guess the package probably explained that, but it was in Japanese... so that was exciting. I almost lost an eyebrow, and we hustled back into our apartment when one of our neighbors came out to investigate the noise. I swear, this story sounds like the beginning of something stupid that Elders do and get in trouble. Luckily we stopped before causing any real damage. I'm also now realizing that there's probably a rule against missionaries handling fireworks, but it did not occur to us at the time. We toasted the new year together with Orangina in some flute glasses that were in the apartment... not really sure why.

On the 2nd we had a potluck at the church with some members and our investigators. Kim came, and had a good time. There was all kinds of food, and I brought banana bread made with a recipe Mom sent me that everyone really liked. I love getting to watch members and investigators become friends, because that's where it really counts. Even though we love our investigators, missionaries aren't permanent. It's so important for the people we teach to be friends with members who live her so that after we leave they'll still have a reason to come. The branch here in Niigata seems to have a good understanding of that - investigators aren't really "ours," but theirs. Their future friends and support systems.

On Friday we went to Sanjo for zone training. Niigata is the biggest, most spread-out zone, so it takes a really long time for everyone to travel. We did a blitz in Sanjo afterwards, where everyone went out for an hour talking to people on the street, and I definitely came to appreciate Niigata more. There was almost nobody outside! But we did meet one really nice lady, who was actually on her way to go drink with her friends (wouldn't that be a funny conversion story!) We also met awesome people on the train.

We did a lot of knocking on doors this week, along with more getting lost trying to find people's houses. Google maps is usually pretty accurate in America but not so much here, we're learning. So we ask neighbors for help a lot, which they're always more than willing to do. It's so funny! Knock on someone's door asking to share something that will make their family happier, and they say "no thanks I'm good." But if you need something from them, they'll go waaay out of their way to help. Yesterday two ladies who didn't know each other ended up running around different neighborhoods, trying to help us find a certain house that we never did locate. Eventually we just told them we were going to give up for now, please go back inside your house because it's snowing, by the way here's our number call us anytime. We know where one of them lives so maybe we'll deliver a thank-you cake.

Best for last: Kim!! We've been teaching her some last lessons before baptism, and she's ready. It's such a miracle. She's very forgiving of my bad Japanese, and imperfect explanations, and all the weird things we do. Sometimes I'll call her to see how she's doing, but then not really know what to say or how to understand her response so I just end up rambling and making a fool of myself. But she seems to appreciate it. I love her, and this week is going to be the best week ever.

Hope everyone has the best 2014 ever!! I didn't take many pictures this week, but saw this awesome sign at the train station. Let's all make it a resolution to delight someone.

Love, Anna

Train station sign in Niigata

Thursday, January 2, 2014

More Pictures from Niigata Branch (From the O. Family)

Niigata Branch Christmas boxes for each of the 4 sets of missionaries - so generous!!  Zoom in to see a familiar and surprising item in each box.

Niigata Branch members and missionaries carol in a nursing home.

The O. family hosts Christmas eve for missionaries, friends and family.