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

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