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.

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!
Sushi with Anna, Mari and Jones Shimai


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!

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.


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!