Monday, February 24, 2014

Time keeps racing by

Hello hello!

This week went by super fast as well. Last Monday we got a chance to go to some really cool Chinese gardens near our apartment, so Mom can rest assured that I AM getting some cultural experiences here. Even if it wasn't a Japanese one. We also found an import store at the train station, and I was a very happy camper when I found Kraft macaroni and cheese, plus guacamole seasoning. Yay!

We got a chance to finally use our iPads up to their potential this week while teaching Ku. We made a picture slide show of the Joseph Smith story and showed it to her and her daughter, and they really liked it. The things we teach are so new and foreign to lots of people here, so having visual aids really helps. I can't imagine growing up barely knowing anything besides a vague image of God, then having two weird giant foreigners show up and try to teach me about Jesus Christ and prophets and the Book of Mormon and the Holy Ghost and praying and on and on... It truly is a miracle anyone wants to meet with us.

Whenever we talk to members who converted, their story is always the same: I didn't understand a word the missionaries taught me, I just felt good and knew it was right. We really can't do anything without the Spirit.

We had really cool experiences teaching this week, especially on Sunday. Oseki Shimai brought one of her friend's 9-year-old daughter, Teri, and we were teaching her about Jesus Christ and why we take the sacrament in church. Teri has been studying English from birth so she's completely fluent and sounds like a native speaker - it's awesome! We actually met her on Christmas Eve before. Anyway, we taught her completely in English - I think that's why her mom let her go to church. Language study. But it was so great. She unexpectedly started crying while we taught about Jesus' life - she just couldn't believe people would kill Him, and was sad that we couldn't see Him or Heavenly Father. We quickly told her that she could talk to God any time she wanted through prayer, and she wanted to pray herself. So she did right then, in Japanese, and it was probably the most beautiful prayer I've ever heard. She is so, so sweet!

We also invited our friend Mia to the potluck after church - we hadn't really gotten a chance to talk about church things yet, and were planning on introducing it then, but she got lost trying to find the church and didn't end up arriving until it was over. But we saved her some food and got to introduce her to a member there, who I guess thought that she was already taking lessons, so we ended up having a full discussion about prayer, and God's guidance, and conversion, and all of that. I think she was a little surprised but it turned out to be really good and she was listening intently and asking questions the whole time. Yay! I should really get better at setting up better expectations when I meet people to avoid situations like this, but it's awkward sometimes. When people actually want to talk to us and be our friend we get so excited sometimes that we forget to explain to them we're not just here to hang out.

But miracles happen here every day. The other sisters met a man while knocking on doors this week who actually invited them in to teach! Hasn't happened to me yet. They couldn't go inside because there weren't any women home, so they gave him a Book of Mormon and said they'd come aback the next day with the Elders. When the Elders came he'd already read 109 pages! Kind of a funny guy. After their lesson he was kinda like "ok that was cool, goodbye, see ya never" but the man read 109 PAGES so they're not giving up that easy.

I'll send pictures of our garden day! Love you.


Anna & Sisters Amituanai & Crane Reading in the Chinese Garden

Chinese Garden Silliness

Chinese Garden in Niigata

Sunday, February 23, 2014

More Pictures from Sister O.

Birthday cake for Anna baked by Sister O.

Anna & Sister Wigginton with Anna's birthday cake

Anna & Sister Wigginton

Siser Wigginton, Anna and one of Sister O's English students

Niigata Missionaries

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Another Update

Dear family,

Hello! It was good to hear from you this week. I'm glad to know that Dad's surgery went okay, and that he's being taken care of. And thank you so much for the valentines package! It was unexpected and made me really excited to see all the cards and chocolate, as you can see in the picture. Not super helpful for my diet but eh, I wasn't too committed to that anyway.

This week went by so, so fast. Probably due to the fact that Tuesday and Wednesday were the only two full proselyting days we had, but more on that later. We had district meeting, then met one of the members at the church to drive over to Yoshi's house (the lady we met on the train) to teach her more about the Book of Mormon. She committed to read it on her own, to really see if it were true, and we felt like she truly meant it. Unfortunately when we called later that week to see how her reading was going, she told us (very nicely) that she wanted to stop meeting. So, we got dumped over the phone. Happy Valentine's day!

It's funny how much missionary work is like dating sometimes. Only in a very unhealthy, one-sided relationship. You meet people and instantly get so excited. You start imagining your future with them: great lessons, them feeling happier and changing their lives, getting baptized, etc. Then, you worry about when to call, and how often to call. Will she get annoyed if I send too many texts? How soon is too soon to ask if we can meet again? There is a constant need to DTR [define the relationship?] and make sure both parties are on the same page so that miss-communication doesn't lead to a break-up. Every time our phone gets a text, we excitedly run to see if it's an investigator saying they'll meet with us, then discover to our dismay it's only an update from tech staff. I guess we never can fully escape that middle school girl drama.

Okay, enough of that tangent. Tuesday night while at the train station we met a lady who seemed super interested and was actually willing to talk to us. And right then! So we went to a nearby restaurant and talked to her all about God, and prayer, and how to be happier, and it was going lovely until we asked when we could meet again. She surprised us by saying she didn't really have interest in any religious stuff - then why were you talking to us all this time?? Apparently she likes learning about American lifestyle. I think it's funny when people try to talk to us about that - clearly we are not good examples of normal American lifestyle.

Wednesday morning we went to give service at the old folks' home again - the people there are so funny. I don't think there's a single person under the age of 90. Japanese people live sooo long - that's why there are so many care centers like this one. After that we went out to lunch, all 8 of us missionaries (!!) and one of the ladies in our ward, plus another man (so that the Elders could be there). It was wayyy good, and we had to hustle afterwards to our next appointment. We finally, finally, finally got the chance to meet with Matsu, who we met over a month ago while knocking on doors. She had taken the missionary lessons over 30 years ago and still remembered them! She is the world's busiest woman, so we've only just been able to get an appointment, but it was awesome. The member we had with us and Matsu had met before, a long time ago, so they became instant besties while catching up about acquaintances they had in common. I'm a little worried it might be hard to get regular appointments with her, but Matsu is awesome and so sweet and really gets it. A lot of the people we teach have good intentions but don't really understand "the point of it all," but the Lord has been preparing Matsu for over 30 years to hear this and she's ready.

Thursday was my first Mission Leadership Council! They have them once a month, where all the Zone Leaders and Sister Training Leaders come to Tokyo to get training from President Budge... all except the Niigata missionaries, that is. We watched through Skype and emailed questions/comments to the Assistants if we had any. Sound quality was pretty good though, and I still sort of felt like I was there. Sister Wigginton and Sister Smith, the other STL's companion, went on a split while we were on Skype, and they got to teach Ku! We're meeting her again today to follow-up and see how reading the Book of Mormon went.

On Friday we went to the Niigata port in the morning to take the ferry to Sado Island! I was so excited to go there to go on splits with the Sisters there. The ferry was kind of weird - it's basically just big sections of carpet where everyone sits without shoes on and falls asleep. You can even rent blankets for a dollar! It took about three hours, and I thought I'd be studying the whole time. Usually I have a stomach of steel. But fighting the rocking of the boat to read one chapter, I quickly realized that unless I wanted to vomit I'd have to surrender and just go to sleep like everyone else. Also, all the toilets on the ferry were the classic Japanese porcelain hole-in-the-ground ones except for ONE (luckily for us). I think regular American-style toilets are considered the "handicapped" ones here.

We met the Sado sisters at the bus stop near their apartment, then I got to go out and dendo with Sister Willden, from my MTC district! We had fun knocking on doors, chasing people down the street (not a lot of people in Sado, so you can't let a single one pass you by!) and visiting some referrals they'd gotten. We woke up the next morning to study together, then I went out with Sister Mondano for a while. It was windy and hailing, but we biked through it and had fun. Sister Wigginton and I thought we'd be catching the 4:15 ferry back to Niigata, but upon arriving at the port found out that because of the storm all the boats had been cancelled. So we got on the next bus straight back to their apartment!

We ended up staying for church at the Sado branch. There were 9 members there, plus the six missionaries (8 with us). The branch members were so sweet, and they're all like a big family. I guess you get to know everyone really well when there are so few people. The funny thing is, while I was happy to be in Sado, I kind of missed my Niigata branch! It's funny how it's become "home" already. Luckily the weather cleared up, actually it was gorgeous out, and we got to take the ferry back to Niigata and get there in time for dinner. The ride back was suuuper rocky though. I must have been looking rough, because a man came over to give us barf bags, even demonstrating how to use it just in case we didn't understand. I tried not to laugh as I thanked him.

Love love love,

Anna opening up her Valentine's package

Anna & Niigata Sisters have lunch with a woman they met at the train station - very friendly but not interested in religious things

A classic Japanese toilet

Anna & Sister Wigginton and the Sado Sisters (Willden and Mondano) "on the floor like the true Nihonjin we are" eating a curry dinner

Monday, February 10, 2014


Hello from a Winter Wonderland!

Well, I've finally gotten all the snow that was promised when people heard I was going to Niigata. Actually, that's not true - it's only about half a foot tall instead of the usual three feet. But still enough to make biking dangerous. Crane Shimai and Wigginton Shimai already wiped out on Saturday and I've been going very slowly and carefully everywhere.

Before I forget: Good news from last week! One of my friends from Oyama called and told me they'd had FOUR baptisms since I left. Pe and another one of the Elders' investigators, plus Miro and now his wife as well. I was so, so happy. Their family had been going through such hard times and are now so much closer and happier. They are working towards the same goal and supporting each other. It's awesome. This is why I came here.

Earlier this week, before it started snowing, it was just super windy and hailing for two days. Figures it was the two days we spent ALL day outside. But struggling to bike against the wind kind of warms you up! We tried to find a university campus once but ended up getting way lost and wound up next to the beach. I think it was my first time seeing the ocean up close in Japan, but it was super dark and kind of eerie. Then the apartment building whose doors we knocked on nearby were the world's fastest door-shutters. Weird place.

The other hail-y day we biked out to Kim's house, about an hour both ways. It was the first time we'd seen her in weeks, and I was a little nervous to how she'd react to us showing up unannounced, but she actually seemed really happy to see us and let us in. She was more talkative than usual - I think she missed us. We had a lot of catching up to do. She also gave us cake and taught us Niigata slang, so it was fun. We're meeting her at the church this week for a lesson and I think the plan at this point is to kind of start over, from the basics, and help her build her faith.

We also got the cool experience of giving a church tour to Ku with her daughter and another member with kids around the same age. We offer to give people tours all the time, but this was the first time I'd actually done one. She seemed to really like it and especially thought the baptismal font was interesting - I guess it is a little strange, like a mini swimming pool in the middle of nowhere.

On Thursday we went to a conveyor-belt sushi place with the other sisters and one of their investigators for lunch. Those places are the best! Then we came back for zone training, then our "Hastening the Work" tour. Where, at last, we got the iPads. I'm pretty sure I'm the least excited person in our whole zone about it. Everyone is geeking out and I'm like "uhh, I don't get this app, can I still use my paper planner?" It feels so, so weird not to use the planner anymore. It's like a missionary tradition. Progress reports, teaching records, stats reporting, all that stuff is now done straight from our area book app. I don't really get it yet but it's getting there. I think once I figure it out it really will be more effective. Both Niigata zones were there, and all 12 sisters stayed at our apartment that night. Sleepover!

Probably my favorite part about the iPads so far is that I don't have to carry hardly anything around with me anymore. Scriptures, text books, music, everything is on there. In 200 languages. The Gospel Library app is awesome, and obviously someone who helped create it has a sense of humor because while things are loading it displays scriptures about how patience is a virtue.

Friday was President Budge interviews, which were really good. He helped us realized which of our investigators were found by us and which ones had been prepared by the Lord for us. We're in the middle of a huge shift of focus - missionaries don't do the work, we're just tools. Every miracle that happens is because of God. We just get to work as hard as we can and watch Him do wonders.

Friday we also got to meet with Yosh, the lady we met on the train. One of the sweetest people ever! She's very talkative and willing to have us over pretty much whenever, which is a nice change. People here are so dang busy all the time. When we gave her a Book of Mormon she seemed hesitant at first, but then was like "well I can't know if I don't at least try it, right?" Yes! That's what we try to tell people all the time.

Saturday we taught a special kids' eikaiwa in the morning, and people actually came this time! It was small, but fun, and hopefully more people keep coming. On the way back home was when the snow and ice was the most dangerous. I went on splits with Crane Shimai that day, so we used buses and trains to get around. It was fun and I was impressed by how bold she is with people. I have a bad habit of beating around the bush and trying to small talk forever before bringing up why I actually want to talk, but she'll just say right up, "we teach about Jesus Christ. Are you interested?"

On Sunday Sister Wigginton and I were waiting at the bus stop to go visit a less-active member, when all of a sudden the lady we were talking to stepped out to hail a taxi and turned to us saying, "you're going to the eki, right? Get in!" So that was my second free cab ride as a missionary. Pretty exciting. She accepted our number, but didn't want us to help her find happiness and salvation. Why are people here so willing to help us and so reluctant to get any kind of help back? When we do service we have to do it sneakily, like shoveling people's driveways when they're not home, because no one will every accept help.

Today we wanted to go to the aquarium but roads were too icy to go anywhere far, so we made a snowman instead. It was actually pretty fun. I also got by bike lock stolen a second time by the Elders, who apparently have a talent for figuring out people's lock combinations. They've taken my bike out for a joy ride at least once. We bought some flowery window stickers to decorate their helmets next time we get a chance.

Well, that's all I have time for now. Pictures: Our snowman Elder Frosty, and an early Valentine's card from me and Sister Wigginton. Even the grocery stores here are cuter.

Love you!

Anna and Sisters Crane, Wigginton and Amituanai with "Elder Frosty"

Anna and Wigginton Shimai send an early valentine!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

new beginnings


This week was full of new investigators, fresh starts, and motivation to be better. We are still having kind of a problem with phone calls being ignored and texts going unanswered, so we spent lots of finding new people to teach by knocking on doors, talking to strangers on the streets, and calling up names written in our area book. Our efforts paid off and we found five new investigators! Looking forward to telling you how those lessons go in next week's email.

Last P-day, after emailing, Sister Wigginton and I biked out to a recycle shop, which is what they call the second-hand stores here. They're EVERYWHERE, and way awesome! Makes me kind of mad I ever shopped anywhere else. Think Goodwill prices, but everything is set up all nice, like a boutique. I got a coat that's a little less scary than the long black raincoat I always wear, and it was only four dollars! We also got to meet Ku, a mother with the world's cutest four-year-old daughter, that the Elders met "housing" and referred to us. She's super sweet and wants to come to church!

Tuesday, while biking home from the train station, a girl recognized me when we were both stopped at a crosswalk. She was riding on the back of her friend's bike - people do that all the time here. It's funniest when it's two college-age boys. Anyway, she was like "remember me?" and she asked about the other sisters, and seemed to know where we lived, but I could not for the life of me remember who she was. I talk to so many people every day, and I'm always scared of something like that happening. Anyway, we rode our bikes side-by-side the whole way home, talking, and she mentioned her and her friend were going to go eat ramen at the nearby mall. After we split ways we ran into the other sisters outside our apartment, and asked them "how do you feel about... ramen?" So, like the creepy, desperate-for-friends missionaries we are, we biked to the mall to surprise them. And they were surprised! Probably thought we were stalkers. Didn't plan that one out in my head super well. But hopefully they'll call us?

Wednesday we met a new investigator for lunch, who told us right after we sat down that she has no interest in religion, just in knowing how other people think. Ugh. Unfortunately we meet a lot of those people - but actually I have some hope for her. We asked her if she'd every prayed, and she said no, so we told her she could never know if God really existed or not without trying it out. I think it got to her, at least a little. That night for Eikaiwa we taught the advanced class, which was just three people who all have really good English. They were really funny and went off on random tangents all the time, including Justin Bieber, global warming (Japanese people LOVE talking about global warming) and the difference between vegans and vegetarians. I love Eikaiwa.

Every Thursday is weekly planning day, which I always sort of dread and look forward to at the same time. It takes forever but really does motivate us to finish the week strong and make goals for the next one. We didn't have much "dendo" time, but were able to meet some new people and teach Ku a little bit. The Sado sisters came and slept at our apartment that night in preparation for the next day's conference.

On Friday, Elder Scott Whiting came to speak to both Niigata zones. It was amazing! It was his last day on his tour of our mission, and he said really great things that we needed to hear. Both Elder Whiting and his wife served in the Tokyo mission, so it was fun hearing their stories. One of my favorite things that he said was when he challenged us to be bolder and to start testifying right away about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I think one of the worst things as a missionary is when I'll stop someone and chat with them forever about shopping, or their hobbies, or the weather, and then they'll have to go and I'm all "wait, that's not actually why I wanted to talk to you!" but it's too late. I always have to remember why I came here - not as a student, or a tourist, or an adventurer, but as a representative of Jesus Christ. Sometimes I forget.

After the conference I went upstairs for a special "mission leadership council" with the Budges, the Whitings, the Assistants and the Zone leaders. It was sort of intimidating to talk in such a small room with the Whitings and the Budges there and I'm pretty sure my face turned scarlet when it was my turn. I'm still struggling a little to find all this STL stuff out - I've yet to be added to the email list, so I have to rely on forwards from other people, which resulted in my missing the first weekly conference call because it got switched to a Monday and no one told me. Most weeks, on Tuesday mornings, all the ZLs and STLs go on a big conference call with President Budge and talk about the baptisms that week and other announcements. Luckily I made it this week, but it still took me forever to find out how to mute and un-mute the phone so I could answer when they did role call. Embarrassing. I continue to be the world's least technologically competent person ever. I think I broke the DVD player in our apartment but I'm waiting to call tech staff about it because I've had to call way too many times recently for other things.

Hopefully I have better luck with the iPad minis, which are coming next week. It's official. Our mission still doesn't use Facebook though, and I'm kind of relieved. That would be super weird to have all my Facebook stuff available to distract me.

Saturday was really nice out, so we took the train to a huge park a while away and talked to all the people there playing with their kids or walking their dogs. No huge success there, but we met a nice lady on the train ride back. I asked her what the hardest part about life was, and she answered "not knowing who I am or why I'm here." What a coincidence! That's sort of why we came to Japan - to teach about that! We're meeting with her on Friday.

Sunday was gorgeous outside - easily the warmest it's been since I came to Niigata. It made it so much more enjoyable to be outside all day after church, knocking on doors. Church was pretty entertaining as well - one of the members got up to bear his testimony, first in English and then in Japanese, about the "most important issue in the Church right now," global warming. I wasn't lying before.

Well, I guess that's about it for now. Pictures -  a glimpse of the park (probably prettier in the spring, I guess), and us in our Eskimo coats.

Much love,

Park in Niigata - probably prettier in Spring

Niigata Sisters in Eskimo coats