Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving Week

This last week we've spent a lot of time with our investigator who is going to be baptized on Sunday. It's been so awesome working with him. Seeing him change and start recognizing the joy of following Christ has been incredible. It's inspired me to do better to keep the Spirit with me, because that is what has brought this change to him. Were it not for the joyful feeling of the Spirit that he was so ready to receive, being such a humble person, I don't think he would have seen any reason to keep meeting with us. I'm so grateful that I've had this opportunity to work with him.

We got snow for the first time this week, and it was very cold. Unfortunately, I was on an exchange when that day came, and I didn't have all my great winter stuff with me. On top of that, my exchange companion needed to go to the office with another elder for choir practice, so I went on another exchange with Elder Hall during my current exchange. We were both greenies (I actually know Elder Hall from the MTC), and we were both in a totally new area on the coldest day of the year. The only thing for us to do was a 4-hour street contacting block. Not super effective, but something cool to mention. 

During an exchange with Elder Cable this past week or two, he committed me to pray about five things I did well that day, and then to ask about something I needed to improve in. I've often hesitated to ask questions in prayers, and that was probably because I was afraid of not getting an answer or not being worthy or sincere enough to receive it, but the answer and impression I got from doing that has stayed firmly in my mind. Since then, my prayers have become of utmost importance to me, and I see them as my time to account to the Lord how I have cared for His children that day. This has helped me stay humble and continually diligent, something I've always struggled with. I've learned that experiencing a single powerful personal study, meaningful prayer, or really focused, consecrated day of work isn't enough. Every study, prayer, and thought must be increasingly meaningful. The Spirit is a Spirit of progression, I have learned, and contentment will not invite it to remain with me, keep me humble, and keep my mind and heart close to my Father and His work. Having the Spirit with me always is one of my most earnest desires, and I know that when I do, I am a much more effective and Christlike person. Now, I must seek always to remember this, and keep my eye on Christ in order to stay humble and focused. 

Elder Moore and I are doing the 100 hour week this week, which means for 7 days we will wake up at 5:30 AM instead of 6:30, get ready and eat breakfast for an hour, do an hour of study, another 30 minutes of personal study, then leave and not come back to the house until 9:30 PM. Unless we eat with a member or investigator, we have only 5 minutes for lunch and dinner, so basically we just eat while we work. I've heard it's pretty exhausting, so I'm excited. Because I've been focused a lot since coming on my mission of being continually humble and focused on the Lord and His work, I hope I will learn and develop this throughout the week. If I can stay totally diligent, then I hope to apply this Christlike attribute throughout my mission. 

I hope everyone is doing well and had a great Thanksgiving. We ate some chicken, because there is no turkey here (that we know of, anyway). I can send pictures next week. Have a great holiday season! 

Hwae ting, Elder Jones! I sarangheyo you too! (That's some really bad romanization right there)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Answers to Prayers

First of all, our investigator is progressing so much! We had a baptismal date for December 12th and we moved it to the 5th just because we believe he is ready. It has been awesome teaching him because he is so humble and desirous to meet with us. He doesn't feel or interpret things the same way we do, but what has been so incredible is how he said he can feel the Spirit. The fact that he understands what we teach and wants to be baptized is a miracle in itself. We've been working a lot with the bishop and members to make sure he is taken care of, and they have been so helpful and loving. We are so excited for him!

We had a big Kimchi making service project this week. There were tons of people there from a bunch of different organizations, and there were about 50 missionaries there. Basically, crates of Kimchi, sauce, and moo were brought in. Some people would bring it to tables, where other people would mix it and prepare it. They would put it in shipping containers, which were then weighed. It was my job to run those containers over to another table to be packaged. It was lots of fun and very educational to see how Kimchi is made (or part of the process, anyway). I have no pictures, but apparently Sister Sonksen took a ton and put them on Facebook. You might try to find them there. 

This week's funny experience: On on exchange with Elder Saunders, we met a ninety-five year old man on the street. He was super energetic and happy to see us. We had only said we were from America, and he called us family, pointed at each of us individually, then firmly asserted that he loved us. Then he went berserk making the sign of the cross over and over again as fast as he could, which was actually pretty impressive. We just smiled, said "nice to meet you", and walked away. 

An interesting thing about Korean culture/language that I don't think I've talked about are the different forms of speaking. There are actually three ways we might say hello: "an young," "an young ha se yo," "an young ha shim ni ca." Korean society is very hierarchical, and whenever speaking to someone, you use the form that suits that person's rank. To elderly people, we say the latter form of hello. To middle age, we use the middle one. Normally, one would use the low form on children or people beneath you, but as missionaries we are simply told never to use low form, which is called "pan mar." Every sentence ends with a verb, and it is conjugated to one of the three forms. It can be very rude to use to use the wrong form in the wrong situation because of Korea's high standard of formality and respect. Luckily, it's actually pretty natural to feel which form we need to use on what person. 

I've seen powerful answers to my prayers this week. I feel that my weaknesses are patience and continued diligence, because I might work and be focused really hard on learning, sharing, and opening my mouth one day, but fall short the next. I've been praying really hard to be able to stay focused continually on doing His work and forgetting myself. One night, I prayed to know what I need to do and remember in order to stay strictly devoted to what Heavenly Father wants me to be doing. The thought that has permeated through my mind since is: "Am I a servant whom the Lord can trust?" I've thought about this a lot. The first thing we teach others is that we have a loving Heavenly Father. He is literally our father, spiritually, and like us has a body of flesh and bone. His desire, work, and glory is for us to return to live with Him. Everything He does works toward this end. I have only just starting realizing the sacred trust He has placed in us as missionaries. We are to bring his children back to Him. Our purpose, through the Gospel of Christ, aims to bring Heavenly Father's children Eternal Life and happiness. This realization really sunk in the past week. The Lord pours blessings and miracles out upon us. Do we use all of these, to the very best of our ability, to fulfill His eternal purpose? If so, then He can trust us with more. This eternal impact and significance of this work is overwhelming. But, through His Spirit, the Lord can make us instruments in His hands. We have the potential to receive an outpouring of the Spirit, but only if we are 100% dedicated to serving Him and, thereby, his children. The blessings he pours upon us, namely the gifts of the Spirit, are a sacred trust. They are to be consecrated for His work, which is of infinite importance. We show our love for Him and our desire to submit ourselves to His will when we use all our heart, might, mind, and strength to follow every prompting and serve. The greater we show and act on our commitment to use all He has given us for the salvation of His children, the more he can trust us with. We must continually be diligent, patient, and consecrated to His will. Doing well for a while but slackening our effort from time to time does does not make us someone He can trust. We cannot follow the Nephite cycle of compelled humility in order to pour our hearts out to Heavenly Father. Rather, we must be like the people of Ammon - forsaking that which inhibits our conversion and pursuing only what the Lord would have us do. When we consistently show that we will do what He wants, He blesses us with a greater portion of His Spirit. I know that this brings more joy, peace, love, and happiness than anything else we can experience. 
This church is right outside our house. Seoul is full of churches, many of which are massive. Right across from this one is another big church that isn't in the picture (just to the right). ​

Monday, November 16, 2015

Stake Conference

This week has been incredible! A major highlight was stake conference, where President Whiting (Area Seventy president over Asia) came and spoke on Saturday andSunday. He spoke in English with a translator, so I could actually understand his talk. One of the most memorable things he said was that Seoul is filled with huge, beautiful churches. We can hardly go anywhere without being in sight of one of the lit-up red crosses. He compared them to them to the fig tree visited by the Savior in the New Testament. It was beautiful and large. But, because it had no fruit, it withered. It was of no worth. Only Christ's true church has fruit. He went on to talk about how in Asian culture, getting into the best university and the best jobs are of paramount importance. He told everyone that things, though worthwhile, should never interfere with the Sabbath or in feeling the Holy Ghost. It was a very powerful and spiritual talk, and I learned a lot about how some of us have to sacrifice different things that may be very difficult. Scholarship is culture in Asia, and this can make it very difficult to teach someone because all time is spent studying to pass exams. Church attendance and the Sabbath may seem like major roadblocks to this. President Whiting promised, however, that if the saints put the Lord first and keep the Sabbath Holy, they would have all they stand in need of. 

I've seen many miracles this week as I've sought to accomplish the zone commitments (challenge someone to be baptized every day) and our own companionship and personal goals. More than anything, I've learned about the gift of the Spirit. I've felt it so powerfully this past week, especially as I've focused my thoughts, energy, and strength on others. An ongoing goal or vision I have for myself as a missionary is to develop a Christlike love and charity for others. As I thought about this, Moroni 7:44-48 really stuck with me. Elder Bednar said in his Character of Christ talk that complete conversion occurs when we naturally turn out in love, meekness, compassion, and patience during even the greatest of trials. This is a great party of what it means to have charity. It can often be very difficult to overcome our natural tendency toward pride and selfish thinking. I have learned this week, however, that is can be actually be very simple. We need only consider whether each action invites a greater portion of Heavenly Father's spirit to dwell with us, strengthen us, and prompt and strengthen us to direct our thoughts and efforts toward others, or whether our actions and behavior inhibit it. 

I've gained a much more powerful testimony of the Spirit this week. I did not understand well how it worked before my mission. However, we had a lesson with one of our investigators who is extremely humble. When he felt the Spirit during our testimonies, he said he felt something, and he even asked if we would baptize him the next day. He struggles to understand much or what we say, and he doesn't feel or understand things much the same as most others do. Yet, he wanted to keep feeling the Spirit. There is nothing more wonderful than feeling an increase of our Father's Spirit. It is incredibly simple. If something is right, we can feel the Spirit's presence. If not, the Spirit will not be there. I know from my experiences that following the Spirit, though usually not the easier path, brings the most happiness. It inspires us with worthy goals and desires, gives us strength to act on them, and confirms that what we are doing is right. Alone, I really have no idea how to build more charity, patience, and meekness. All I can do is pray that Heavenly Father will bless me with the guidance I lack to do it, and He will do so through the gift of His Spirit.

I have also learned that humility is, perhaps, the most important factor in feeling the Spirit. Do we wish for correction, or eschew it? When others do or say things that offend or hurt us, do we take it meekly and patiently, or do we quickly irritate? Humility allows us to take all the whirlwinds of life with an eye single to Christ. We know we need and rely on Him every day, forever. Thus, we obediently seek only to do as he would have us do. We disregard anything that might distance us from His presence. It isn't easy, nor should it be. But as we do this, we allow Heavenly Father to lead, and He will work miracles. We have already gotten two people to agree to be baptized when we met them on the street. The Lord is capable of anything. We just need to allow Him to work through us by seeking and following His guidance through the Spirit. 

I don't have time to talk about all the amazing things that happen here, because there are so many every day! I hope everyone is doing well. Thanks for your messages, encouragement, and advice. Have a great Thanksgiving! (That's this week, right?) 

In answer to your question, we don't do hardly any knocking on doors. There are always people to talk to on the street in Seoul. Not sure what we do when it gets cold, but when it is raining a lot we try to do other finding activities. This could mean scanning through our area books (all FOUR of them) looking for people that look promising to call back up. We have a current investigator we found that way. We also do streetboards, which are boards with questions like "where do we go after we die?" and we ask people to come put a sticker on one of the questions. Lately, we have had a large focus on visiting members and building relationships. In Korea, that is extremely important, because members will not give referrals if they don't have a solid, good relationship with the missionaries. We also work a lot on English class, because there are lots of Koreans who want to talk to native English speakers. We hand out flyers and try to advertise it. We share a spiritual thought at the end of class, and this is a way that is often very effective and getting people interested in the church and spending lots of time with missionaries. 

A lot of time is also spent trying to visit less actives. This part is difficult, because the address system here is ridiculous. We can spend hours just looking for one or two houses. Still, we are trying to work on this, because there are fewer than 10,000 active members out of more than 80,000. So, we are trying to work on bringing people back, but the main focus right now is helping members start doing missionary work. 
Jangwi - we travel this street every day and take those blue buses all the time to go to the stake center in Gireum

So far, this is the most delicious meal I've eaten in Korea.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Chicken anyone?

I'll start this one out with a really funny experience that happened on Tuesday. We were walking home when we passed by a man eating chicken from a cup with a spork, and I asked to shake his hand. He responded unusually enthusiastically. He shook our hands, then immediately, before we could say anything, began to feed us chicken by putting it in our mouths with his spork. He gave each of us a piece, then started walking away. We hurried after him to give him a restoration pamphlet, and he turned around and fed both of us another piece of chicken. It was so weird, and Elder Moore and I just had to walk away laughing. The next day, I accidentally flushed my pen down the toilet while we were cleaning, but that's another story. 

A really cool thing happened during English class when a member brought me a cheesecake for my birthday. I was so taken aback, and could only say thank you. Elder Moore's birthday was three days later, so I think we will break into it today to celebrate both of them. 

We finally got a service project here for a member family that was moving. We carried lots of heavy boxes and furniture up some really steep steps in the rain, which was actually pretty fun. I feel like we actually helped the family out a lot and sped up the process. It was actually a miracle that we were able to do it, because we were going to their old house, which we hadn't realized they had already moved out of. We just so happened to find them walking down the street to the new one, which was a very unlikely thing. We would never have known where to go if we hadn't been where we were when we were. 

We had some great lessons this week and finally got an investigator to church. We're hoping to get two more there soon. One is Mongolian and is investigating because his girlfriend wants him to. The other has a few roadblocks. Because of some negative past experiences, he doesn't want to associate religion with Korea, but he is very interested in talking to us and learning more about the church. We hope to have a foreign member there next lesson and to take him to a foreigner ward. If he starts seeing the sincerity and love of the saints, we hope and pray that his heart will be softened and he will be able to forgive and forget. If there's anything that can help him do that, it is learning more about Christ and His Atonement. 

This week has been hard for keeping our goals and commitments. At zone meeting, we were committed to challenge someone to be baptized every day. This has been a challenge, but a theme here is the Seoul Mission is "Faith to Baptize." I'm working and praying to be less worried and afraid of making mistakes or talking to everyone on our path so that the Lord can lead. I've learned repeatedly that my own abilities are far from adequate. I've been focusing a lot on seeking inspiration for goals and commitments and trusting in the Lord to fulfill all of them. 

Thanks everyone for your messages and encouragement. It means a lot, and I hope you are all doing very well! 

After moving the family into their new place.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween in Korea?

This week has been fantastic! We got two new investigators. One of them is from Spain and will only be here for another two weeks, so we are just hoping to get him to read the Book of Mormon and meet with missionaries back home.

The other is probably our most interested investigator. We found him going through our area book and noticing that there was no reason that he was dropped, so we called him up and he was excited to meet again. He really likes us and what we teach, and he seemed very desirous to take and read a Book of Mormon. On major challenge we will have with him, however, is that he will not associate religion with Korea or Koreans (keep in mind that he himself is a Korean). He had bad experiences in the past that have caused him to not want to associate religion with Korea in any way, even refusing to take a Korean Book of Mormon and taking an English one instead. This will be a difficult challenge for us to help him overcome, but am praying a lot for Him, because I know if there is anything that can change his heart and bring about a spirit of forgiveness, it is the Atonement of Christ. 

We had a great Halloween two days ago! We all decided to dress up as missionaries and go to the office for a devotional with P.J. Rogers. I doubt anyone will recognize the name, but in Korea he is a legit, huge celebrity. He is a return missionary who went back to Korea for school, graduated from a top Korean university (an EXTREMELY hard thing to do, and he did it all in Korean!), was a business man for a while, had a television show, and is now a professor at BYU Hawaii. When we were told he would be speaking, Elder Moore, who had been to one of his devotionals before, started acting a bit like a kid on Christmas morning (in a good way, of course). I can understand why now. He is an incredible speaker. He taught all about Korean culture, language learning, and something called Jeung. Jeung is sort of the hierarchy or order of respect in Korea. Jeung is the connection between people, and it can be student to teacher, junior to elder, child to parent, or anything else. He talked all about the importance of showing the proper form of respect, like bowing, shaking with two hands, and standing up when an adult walks in the room. He also talked a lot about the importance of developing proper Jeung with members. I can't possibly explain this the way he did, or with all the stories and examples he shared, but I felt very inspired afterward. I definitely act differently now to try to appear as proper as I can. It can be difficult when something that may be rude or odd in Korea would be totally normal in the U.S. For example, he set up a fake role-play situation and suddenly asked a Korean in the audience if he would refer the a friend to the missionaries in a situation like this. The answer was something along the lines of, "No." As U.S. members, we tend to refer people to missionaries even if we don't know the missionary's name. In Korea, that would never happen. Missionaries must develop Jeung with members for the members to be willing to refer people to them. 

After the meeting, I realized just how little I actually understood the importance of understanding the culture and the way Koreans think. I can't explain everything that was talked about, because P.J. Rogers talked for more than three hours, but it was such an awesome experience. I've committed to put more effort into learning and understanding the Korean culture and language, because it is so different, but also very cool. I had a very cool experience the next day that I wrote in my journal:

"Today I felt a lot of powerful impressions from the Spirit. I've been praying for an increase of love, especially for the members, because of the inspiring P.J. Rogers devotional yesterday. I certainly felt a lot different today than I have before. Despite language differences and my inability to understand them often, I felt a strong desire to connect with them and more willingly embrace their culture. I bore my testimony in Sacrament meeting and really wanted them to feel the missionary's care for them. A few members actually approached me today about a few different things (language help, getting to know me, talking about ward choir/singing). If this isn't a miraculous, character-changing answer to my prayers, I don't know what would be." 

Thanks for all your messages and encouragement! I hope everyone is doing great!

By the way, go Elder Jones! Glad to see you are doing awesome work just a little way away.
Tyler's Birthday Heart Attack Package from home.

Home away from home--Apartment in Seoul.